The proposed Steiner School in Bristol was reported yesterday to have attracted ‘huge interest’ from prospective parents. They say 850 people have expressed an interest in joining the school when it is finally given government money to go ahead.
If you go to their web site, perhaps you can see why. Their video depicts a school full of music, crafts and caring teachers. What is not to like?
Such things are of course good. But the criticism of Steiner Schools is that they are not open and honest about the mystical and spiritual aims of Steiner education. (see this previous discussion on the Bristol proposal.) Indeed, there appears to be a refusal to actually discuss the religious ideas, developed by Rudolf Steiner, upon which he based his schools and the pedagogy within them.
And anyone who reads Steiner will find strange and disturbing views. He believed in the literal existence of the spiritual world, including “elementals” and gnomes, and that we could know this world through clairvoyance. He believed in karma and reincarnation. Importantly, the role of his spiritual movement, which he called Anthroposophy, was to help people spiritually progress in this life and through to their future lives. He believed that humans existed in a spiritual hierarchy which was based on skin colour: black people were spiritually lazy and blond haired, blue eyed Germanics were the most spiritually advanced and it was their destiny to lead humanity through to spiritual maturity. He believed in quack medicine, spiritual dance rituals, a false history based on Atlantis. His beliefs in anatomy, biology, mathematics and history were all of an occult, pseudo-scientific and superstitious nature.
A full discussion of the nature of Steiner Schools can be found in my previous post:
What Every Parent Should Know About Steiner-Waldorf Schools
As such, when Steiner Academy Bristol describe that their school will be based on the “Steiner educational tradition” I believe it is vital that patents understand precisely what this means. And yet, when we visit your web site (as is common with many Steiner Schools) there is absolutely no discussion of the beliefs of Rudolf Steiner and the Anthroposophical nature of the School. How can parents make an informed choice to join the school when such vital information is withheld? If the School does not subscribe to the spiritual views of Steiner (which I strongly hope they do not, but strongly suspect they do) but merely carry a Steiner ‘ethos’ – what exactly does this mean? Which aspects of Steiner’s pedagogy are still seen as valid today?
In the newspaper comments section, I mentioned that parents ought to be aware of the Anthroposophical beliefs and goals of the Steiner movement, including the disturbing racial beliefs of its founder. A person signing themselves as MisterBG, describing himself as a member of the Bristol Steiner Academy Steering Group, stated that,
We absolutely reject Steiner’s ideas on race. He was writing in pre-WW1 Austria when ideas of racial evolution were mainstream, but that was a hundred years ago and we, along with everyone I have ever met who is involved in Steiner education, see them as plain wrong. Steiner schools do not simply take Steiner’s writing as gospel truth – it was the original inspiration for the movement but things have moved on a very long way since then.
There are a number of problems I see with this response. It is woefully inadequate. (At the very least, it neglects to mention much of Steiner’s writings were in response to Germany’s defeat in WWI. He saw his beliefs as a way of restoring German spiritual superiority and leadership.)
If this were true I would expect to see a credible analysis of Steiner’s racial views conducted by the Steiner Movement where the conclusions come to reject all his racial views. Such a review would be thorough – as Steiner’s views permeated all aspects of Anthroposophy – and it would describe how the movement intends to ensure that such views are not being held and acted upon by teachers and how to prevent them getting into Steiner education in the future. This would not be an easy task as without the spiritual hierarchy, his views on karma and reincarnation no longer make sense (if they ever did in the first place). Rejecting the racial views would require a wholesale reworking of Anthroposophy. This would be a big task that should have been undertaken with professionalism, urgency and seriousness. I see no evidence of such progression within the Steiner movement.
Indeed, in my last blog post I discussed a meeting between Conservative Education Strategists and the Steiner Waldorf movement which strongly suggest that such a review has never been done. Instead of removing racist elements of Steiner’s work it discussed how to use PR to counter criticism.
It worries me that Steiner told his teachers to deny the anthroposophical aims of the schools and to deliberately mislead parents and authorities in case they ‘broke the schools neck’. The best way to avoid accusations that such secrecy is still endemic within Steiner Schools is to be open and honest about your beliefs, aims and associations.
So, I challenge the Steiner Academy Bristol to answer the following questions and post detailed information on them on the school web site so that prospective parents can make fully informed decisions as to wether their children should go there.
1. Will you publish what associations you have with the Anthroposophical Movement?
It is important to know what associations the school has with the wider anthroposophical movement and to what extent the school will be driven by anthroposophical aims and influences. So, as a start, disclosure of staff’s memberships of anthroposophical organisations, their training, school funding sources and help from anthroposophical organisations would be vital. In particular, are any staff, members of the Anthroposophical Society and are any members of the First Class (the innermost levels of membership)?
It is noted that publicly funded Hereford Steiner Academy resisted heavily requests to disclose similar information under Freedom of Information requests and spent public money avoiding answering similar questions. The Information Commissioner made them in the end and I hope Bristol will be more upfront.
2. Will you publish a full discussion of how Anthroposophy and Steiner’s work inspire teaching within the school?
It is not enough to say you are ‘inspired by Steiner’s work’ or that your school will be based on the ‘educational principles and philosophies’ of Steiner without telling prospective parents what this means. Since Steiner’s views would be considered by many to be mystical barmpottery at best, and abhorrent, reactionary and racist at worst, you have a duty to explain what you mean.
You will no doubt know that the Woods Report, commissioned by the previous Labour government, said that “an understanding of child development according to the principles of anthroposophy is at the core and heart of Steiner education. ” The large majority of teachers questioned in the report claimed that anthroposophy was “indispensable or of very great importance” in their teaching practice.
For example, do you adhere to Steiner’s beliefs that the role of Steiner education should be to help the spiritual incarnation process within children? Do you still practice according to his beliefs that early reading and writing can be harmful to the incarnation process and cause disease? Do you believe that technology contains harmful spiritual influences? Do you still restrict the artistic materials and themes that children can use based on his spiritual views of child development? It is dishonest to claim you are an artistic school without mentioning how restrictive artistic expression is forced to be within Steiner schools for spiritual reasons. Will Bristol Steiner Academy actively discourage and delay reading and writing for sound educational reasons or because of Steiner’s weird beliefs on souls entering children when their baby teeth are lost? We need to know.
In short, please post a detailed view of how Steiner’s clairvoyant visions now influence the day to day practice of teaching you propose.
3. Will you fully state how you ensure Steiner’s racial teachings do not influence the School?
Steiner’ racist views underpinned his ideas on karma and reincarnation. Anthroposophy is about the spiritual development of humans through karma and reincarnation. As was quoted in the Woods report, “Karmic understanding of children – is broader context of education. Pre-birth experience affects how each person relates to the curriculum.” According to Steiner, the current, previous and future races of children are used to determine how individually they are taught.
Remove the racial hierarchy and the central element of Anthroposophy is removed. If you now renounce his racist views, you should allow prospective parents to see your working. How did the Anthroposophical movement come to reject his racism? How are you sure racist elements do not appear in your schools? (see this recent parent’s horrible experience for example with a teacher using the word ‘nigger’ that was in a Steiner textbook.) Downplaying or denying the issues will not cut it. It will look like you are hiding the fact that no such review has ever taken place.
4. Will you explain how Steiner’s work influences your teaching of science?
Steiner had very many strange views on science. He believed science needed to be extended through spiritual investigation including clairvoyance and meditation. The British Humanist Society have recently criticised Steiner education as being pseudoscientific. Children are likely to get distorted views of evolution, chemistry, mathematics and geology. History teaching is based on myths. Will you be clear with parents on whether or not you reject Steiner’s scientific views and now accept mainstream, well established science?
5. Will you publish what the spiritual and religious elements of your curriculum are?
It is often denied by Steiner proponents that Anthroposophy is a religion. This is difficult to accept. Steiner viewed the spiritual world as real and that knowledge could be gained of it though meditation and clairvoyance.He proposed that Lucifer was the god of light with an antagonist spirit called Ahriman, the god of darkness. Jesus Christ was seen as a sun god who came to Earth to balance these two opposing forces. Which bit of this is not religious?
Steiner wrote extensively on occultism. That is, he viewed that spiritual knowledge was available to a privileged few: those that develop within Anthroposophy. He saw Steiner schools as preparing children to take on anthroposophical teaching as they grew. Do you renounce this?
How do you counter the charge that Anthroposophy is in fact an esoteric crypto-religious cult?
Within Steiner eduction, much of the curriculum and methods have occult and spiritual significance Eurythmy, the dance practised daily in schools is based on mystical movements to aid the spirit. The practices are art are based on spiritual views of how children view the world. Do you believe Steiner had special spiritual gifts and that his revelations are true? If not, how do you determine which of his insights are sound and which are just mystical babblings?
Steiner wrote prayers for students to recite every day. He told teachers to deny to parents they were prayers and to call them verses in order to avoid association with religious practice in schools, which may be illegal. Will you be asking children to recite these prayers?
Will you fully inform parents of the spiritual nature of any activities you undertake with children and will you describe how parents can choose to let their children opt out of the religious and spiritual elements of your teaching practices?
6. What role does Anthroposophical Medicine play in your School’s ethos and how will you ensure parents are fully informed and the nature of any therapies or treatments given to students?
The role of the school doctor is seen as important for Steiner Schools. The doctor does not just play a medical role but a spiritual role. Will you describe on your website how you intend to integrate anthroposophical medical practices into the school.
Many anthroposophical medical practices are described as pure quackery, like homeopathy. Will you disclose when you propose medical intervention for children that deviates from mainstream practice and ensure that parents are fully informed about the lack of evidence base for such practices? Will you describe the nature of diagnoses made by anthroposophical doctors?
Steiner communities are seen by the Health Protection Agency as risk communities for infectious disease due to anthroposophical beliefs in not vaccinating children. Will you disclose this risk fully to parents? Will you support government guidelines in promoting the full vaccine schedule?
7. Will you tell parents about the gnomes?
Please. Just tell everyone about the gnomes.
And let me be clear about my central concern for the avoidance of doubt. It is not that you teachers may have spiritual views and that your school is founded on spiritual beliefs. There are many mainstream schools that are founded thus. My concern is that you are not open and honest about this, and, as such, parents can never make an informed decision.
Steiner had very specific occult and spiritual aims for his schools. Is it your ethical responsibility to either be open about them, or to show how you have renounced them. If you have renounced them, you should say in detail how this has been done and what remaining elements of Steiner philosophy will be allowed to influence the school.
I look forward to the response from Steiner Academy Bristol.
The Bristol Steiner Academy web site has now published a statement about their relationship with Anthroposophy. My opinion is that it utterly fails to address the above questions and is misleading by omission – as usual. The statement is inherently contradictory. It asserts the school will be founded on the spiritual principles of Steiner but will not “promote nor denigrate any particular religious or spiritual beliefs”. As always, the school is failing to disclose just how the spiritual principles of Steiner actually influence the school. We know from the Woods reports on Steiner Schools that when questioned, “Seventy per cent [of Steiner Teachers] also agreed that Steiner education subtly influenced or predisposed pupils to be open to the spiritual world and anthroposophy“. That rather undermines the statements from the Steiner School movement that they are neutral on spiritual matters and do not promote anthroposophy.
The blogger Alicia Hamburg takes the statement apart on her blog: A MATTER OF PRIVATE BELIEF
Andy, an excellent piece.
It has always been my view that non-racists do not choose to associate themselves positively with racist versions of ideas that are current elsewhere or can easily be devised without the racist content. I think one of the reasons that the Anthroposophical hierarchy refuse to be open and clear about the extent of their belief (or not)in Steiner’s racial hierarchy is that they think it has some merit. Thus far, all of the Anthroposophical and Steiner/Waldorf statements concerning their disagreement with racism fail to explain how they managed to agree with it previoulsy and what in them, or in Anthroposophy, has changed.
When the National Front, The British National Party and The English Defence League claim not to be racist we rightly wish to see a self-published expose of their prior racism and a rationale for the change of heart – they don’t do it and we don’t believe them. Likewise, we have conflicting messages from Anthroposophy; some followers claim Steiner was not racist, some claim he was racist but they are not, some simply say they reject racism (so why follow a racist doctrine?) and some even claim that they reject writings that might be racist but think that Steiner was not racist.
It is my belief that a genuine non-racist would not join a racist cult in the first place unless they did not know about the racist elements. When my daughter was small, I spent quite a time looking at Steiner education via their Kings Langley School and decided against it because of their aggressive anti-science and anti-modern technology comments. A few years ago, I found out about their racist underpinnings and have been writing and commenting on and off every since. I would never now, knowing what I know about the racist and ‘spiritual’ elements of Steiner, wish to associate positively with them. If any Steiner supporters or advocates really are non-racist all they have to do is leave Steiner and Anthroposophy behind – after all, if they don’t support racism they can choose a non-racist religion instead; there are plenty to choose from or one can invent one’s own.
Until advocates of Anthroposophy and Steiner/Waldorf reject their vile religion I will continue to assume they are a bunch of racists because there’s no other reason to add racism to reincarnation when hundreds of millions of people believe in reincarnation without the need for racism.
hi- best ask someone who has been to a steiner school- people are not understanding
“For peoples and races are but steps leading to pure humanity. A race or a nation stands so much the higher, the more perfectly its members express the pure, ideal human type, the further they have worked their way from the physical and perishable to the supersensible and imperishable. The evolution of man through the incarnations in ever higher national and racial forms is thus a process of liberation. Man must finally appear in harmonious perfection.” (Steiner, Knowledge of Higher Worlds p. 207)
It’s pure racism! What aren’t you understanding?
It’s at the bottom of p108 in your link.
Rafy, I’ve read it before. It is also disgustingly true to Plato’s horrible idea of all worth of a human being discernable from the outside. Like the idea of Platonic love, all depends on how someone looks; it’s a type of personalised eugenics that Steiner and his followers took literally with the measuring and physical typing of children at Steiner Waldorf schools. So not only is Steiner an overt racist he is also an eugenicist. If people are not understanding it is because those issues are not of interest to them (so why follow the creed?) or they are willfully ignorant of their own creed (again, so why follow it?) or they are in agreement. I’m prepared to give Steiner followers the benefit of the doubt up until the time Steiner’s true beliefs have been pointed out to them. As the blogosphere has been awash with criticism for years and Dornach has done nothing to educate its own followers, and the followers themselves have not issued one official rational statement as to why they find racism acceptable from Steiner but not from the BNP, NF or EDL or Nazism, we critics conclude that Anthroposophy apologists have had every opportunity to change and modernise their religion and to explain how and why they are doing it. If the Metropolitan Police can start the process of exposing racism in their own organisation (not perfectly but they at least try), any organisation can start it. As Doreen Lawrence would say; “and still we rise”.
You are right to foreground the issue of racism in your critique of Waldorf Steiner, however it is not just racism but the whole cult philosophy underpinning the education, and its concealment, that is the problem. To be clear: if the anthroposophy movement issued a statement tomorrow categorically rejecting all the racist writings of Steiner, the belief system would continue to be a pernicious influence on education and the welfare of children in Waldorf Steiner schools.
We have many Church of England schools in the UK and they aren’t a particular cause for concern because they don’t teach CofE science, CofE art, CofE music etc. Also the moral ethos of the CofE is well understood and generally considered ok: so “do unto others” is compatible with our secular understanding of morality, whereas “that kid is getting beaten up/has special needs because of past life karma” is not.
The Steiner spin has it that the schools are places for the imagination. Unfortunately the imagination that is omnipresent in Steiner schools is the bizarre and warped imagination of Rudolf Steiner: in his dreary art, his bizarre fantasies about reincarnation, karma and the spirit world; his pedalling of medieval medicine whereby every child is categorised in terms of “humors”; his weird dance rituals and banal music; his bowdlerisation of Goethe and Rousseau. The imagination of children in these schools is constrained to the dictates of anthroposophy.
Steiner proponents need to be challenged on every aspect of their practise and asked: why do you do this? We know why Steiner advocated this practise; you claim to have moved on, so do you have a rational basis for this practise or are your practises simply unevolved spiritualism?
The Steiner free school phenomenon is an unhappy marriage of the government’s desperation to deregulate education with the Anthroposophy movement’s opportunism. The government needs to seriously do some due diligence now or this policy is going to smack them in the face. Unfortunately the partial privatisation of education (along with health) is such an ideological obsession that they may be happy to get into bed with anyone.
I’m here to respond to your challenge as best I can. I’ve drafted a piece that deals with the relationship of our prospective school to Anthroposophy, which I have circulated for discussion round our steering group; I’ll post it here if everyone is happy with it. I think you’re right in that I agree that schools have a duty to be open with parents about the philosophies behind their teaching as well as the content of their curriculums. I also agree that state-funded schools have a rather higher duty of public accountability in that regard.
I can answer a few points straight away.
1. Yes, we will be open about our relationship with the Anthroposophical Society. We currently don’t have one and none of the members of our steering group are members. We have no plans for any formal connection with them as a school.
2. I’ll get back to you on this one. I could tell you what I think right now but I’m speaking here for the group so I will hold back…
3. I’m not sure how much further I can go than the statement that was made on the Evening Post piece. We reject Steiner’s views on race; we reject racism in all forms; our school will operate according to a publicly available equal opportunities policy which will include appropriate disciplinary measures for any breaches by staff.
The ECSWE statement of 2007 (http://www.steinerwaldorfeurope.org/downloads/statements/ecswe_discriminationstatement.pdf) makes the stance of Steiner/Waldorf schools on racism and discrimination pretty clear. To my mind they slightly underplayed the role of race in Steiner’s work, although again to my mind Steiner’s critics greatly overplay it, so perhaps we fall somewhere in the middle…
4. Steiner’s work will only influence the way in which we teach science – teaching within multi-disciplinary, project-based lessons as well as single-subject lessons and using practical experience as well as theory. His work will not influence the content of our curriculum, which will be based on mainstream, evidence-based science and will build towards the eBacc including Core Science and Additional Science GCSEs.
5. Our curriculum will not teach any particular religion or faith as fact. We will teach about faith and religion, but we won’t promote or denigrate any particular faith or religion. We will celebrate a calendar of festivals, which will reflect the diversity of the local community, including the traditional northern european festivals that Steiner schools often celebrate (winter solstice/Saint Lucia etc) alongside festivals from Islamic, Hindu and other traditions.
6. We have no plans for a school doctor, Anthroposophical or otherwise. We believe that vaccinations and other medical treatments as well as homeopathy and other alternative medicines are matters for parents and are none of our business as a school.
7. There will be lots of gnomes. Small, felt gnomes for children to play with, I should add.
I should be clear that I’m speaking here for Steiner Academy Bristol. All Steiner schools are independent and have their own ethos and ideas. They are networked via the Steiner Waldorf Schools Federation, but not controlled by the SWSF. I can’t possibly speak for ‘Steiner Schools’ or ‘The Anthroposophical Movement’, and to be honest I’m also not that interested in debating what Steiner actually wrote or what he meant by it. What I can do is to tell you about our actual plans for our new school.
Steiner Academy Bristol steering group
Joe Evans, you say:
‘All Steiner schools are independent and have their own ethos and ideas.’
That’s nonsense. You have no idea what you’re doing. You’ve a very long way to go before you can be trusted with all those children whose parents/grandparents/neighbours/random people from elsewhere signed a form expressing interest in a possible Steiner free school in Bristol. This is the education of children, and it is a serious business.
Where are you going to get the teachers from? Stockholm and Plymouth Universities have closed their Steiner teacher training courses – Plymouth on the dawn of state funding in England, for some mysterious reason. But since you have no idea what Steiner education really is and intend to make up your own version as you go along, perhaps you won’t mind conjuring them out of the air? And you all want such huge schools too – twice the size at least of most existing Steiner schools in England. Frome, Exeter, South Hams, Bristol … you’re all far too ambitious with taxpayers’ money. You simply will not be able to police the allegiances of Steiner teachers trained in Europe, America and elsewhere. You will find very few adequate, properly trained teachers willing to work in what would be – faux Steiner? Joe’s version of Steiner? Let alone the real Waldorf Steiner. It’s a fantasy. The entire edifice will collapse. And that would be ok, except that the people who will suffer most will be children.
The fact is you can’t call yourselves a Steiner School and do whatever you want. That is a ridiculous idea.
‘to be honest I’m also not that interested in debating what Steiner actually wrote or what he meant by it.’ No – it’s much easier to be entirely ignorant. In that you have succeeded.
But where were you when asked a question by Alicia Hamberg about research presented on your prospective school’s site? Here’s your chance to answer: http://zooey.wordpress.com/2012/06/10/bill-woods-research-and-bristol-steiner-free-school/
The thread where you did appear is well worth reading: http://zooey.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/perhaps-not-entirely-honest-about-bristol-steiner-free-school/
It looks as if what you’re doing, Joe Evans – is piggy-backing on the name of a school system you don’t understand and don’t particularly like – not only don’t understand, don’t WANT to understand. You’re proud of your ignorance. No child should go to your school for that reason alone. You will use the word Steiner when it suits you and attempt to distance yourselves when it does not. This is mendacious, and it doesn’t bode well for the future.
Joe, if you are to be taken at your word, why do you use the Steiner brand at all? I mean – it sounds a little bit like vegans opening a McDonald’s franchise, then protesting to their vegan friends that they won’t be serving meat or taking an active role in the McDonald’s franchise association. Why not come up with your own name for a teaching philosophy that by your description has been cobbled together out of a smorgasbord of hipydipy and liberal ideals. Ideals that might be silly, but would at least not be secret, and might stand or fail by the results your school achieved.
Since you’ve kept the name and keep talking about Steiner, can we not be forgiven our suspicions that you are metaphorically scoffing Big Macs round the back in secret?
Given what you have said and what Melanie has said in response, I don’t think any outside observer would have the faintest idea what you really want your school to be.
What is Steinerism without the pernicious bits of Steiner? Or do you deny those exist?
Why use the name of Steiner if you reject core elements of anthroposophy?
Steiner education looks to me like either a throwback to an unpleasant 19th century esoteric racist cult or so unclear about what it intends as to be incompetent. It is also a serious concern to me that Andy has presented a lot of evidence in his various posts that suggest Steinerists are systematically deceptive about what their real ideas are.
if you reject Steiner’s views on race, why did you not choose a non-racist educational and spiritual schema in the first place? I simply don’t understand why anyone who is not a racist would choose to follow a racist thinker. For example there are plenty of non-racist organic agricultural systems to choose from instead of Biodynamics, there are many non-racist forms of reincarnation to choose from in Buddhism and Hinduism – indeed there are non-racist versions of all the ideas that Steiner appropriated from other older belief systems. When did you become aware of the racist aspects of Anthroposophy and what did you do about it? Which of Steiner’s ‘teachings’ do you actually agree with? How are you proposing to teach the children about Steiner’s racist attitudes (assuming you tackle the subject of racism in history, philosophy and politics in history, citizenship and RE)?
You say “not that interested in debating what Steiner actually wrote or what he meant by it.” erm, then why are you involved with a ‘Steiner’ school? Do you not think a driving school would not be interested in the Highway Code? Do you think a Sunday Bible school would show no interest in the Bible? Do you think medical students should show no interest in medicine?
If you could at least acknowledge that, from the outside, your position looks quite odd, that would be a start. But it would be better if you told us what you actually believe.
Joe, I’m sure you are well-intentioned. Steiner schools tend to govern themselves democratically. What guarantees do parents have that all the well-intentioned organizers of this school aren’t drummed out over the next couple of years? Lots of Steiner schools have been started by well-intentioned parents, only to see their efforts taken over by Steiner fundamentalists.
Also, here in the US, the Waldorf name is trademarked – so schools that don’t strictly follow the Waldorf philosophy cannot use the name. I believe there are restrictions about using the Steiner name as well – in the UK (please correct me if I’m mistaken). So, in essence, the Steiner Academy in Bristol cannot stray too far from Steiner’s views without having to relinquish the “Steiner” brand name. In other words, nobody is fooled by this “different” type of Steiner school… it’s either Steiner approved or it doesn’t get the name.
This seems to be the pattern when the initial organisers don’t come from the anthroposophical community. I was involved in the setting up of a Steiner school in London just over a decade ago and was for a while a trustee of that school. None of those who founded the school were anthroposophists, we relied on the pedagogical guidance and opaque expressions of the kindergarten teacher/priestess sent by the SWSF with an ‘impulse’ to support the initiative, and were often baffled by the consequences. Occasionally Christopher Clouder of the SWSF drifted by in a suit, holding a clip-board, but I was usually cleaning the kindergarten loos (this is what the mothers do) and was not invited to join the conversation.
Later on we mostly went to bigger Steiner schools at which point several of us could not get our children out fast enough, especially the mother who started on a Steiner teacher training course.
But I do know that you have to abide by certain guidelines if you want to have the sanction of the SWSF and call yourself a Steiner School, that ‘an anthroposophical impulse must lie at the heart of the school’ (I once thought this was just a thing, but esotericists take spiritual impulses more seriously than I could ever do). I wonder though if in their greediness to get as much public money as possible while the Gove is green the Steiner movement is prepared to do whatever it takes, in the knowledge that those numpties responsible for initiating the schools will soon slip away. Start saving money for the tutor’s fees, is my advice to all novice Steiner free school hopefuls.
What does the pedagogical section at Dornach thinks about this English free school debacle? About Trevor Mepham finding it so hard to tell the BBC Rudolf Steiner believed in reincarnation? Or Steiner-lite free school advocates like Joe Evans and the ludicrous Ewout Van Manen of the Fullfledge Eco(Steiner)? http://ukanthroposophy.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/steinerflavasoup/
Feverish finger-knitting in those Goetheanum circle meetings – Sergei Prokofieff beset by nightmares about spiders. Who owns the brand?
Impulses are truly serious business. That ‘an anthroposophical impulse must lie at the heart of the school’ is true — and it should be taken seriously. In a way it’s good, because at least you know what you’re getting, if you’re clear about this. With all these vaguely and fluffy notions about being’inspired’ by Steiner — in a supposedly benign way only — no further specifications given — you really have no clue whatsoever. In a way, even having had bad experiences in a Steiner school myself, I would far prefer one that was honest about what they were doing — and, actually, one that knew what it was about and what it was doing. Joe Evans may be a sympathetic guy, but I would not trust what he’s saying — and I don’t believe that what he’s saying is the whole, true picture. I think Melanie is absolutely right — they want people who aren’t fully informed to do the ground work, to get people’s interest up, and so forth. He can’t spill the beans accidentally, because he doesn’t have them. (Many of these 850 families expressing interest are not anthroposophical families themselves.)
The Steiner Waldorf Fellowship owns the brand ‘Rudolf Steiner’ in the UK (http://www.ipo.gov.uk/domestic?domesticnum=1289689). Nobody can run an educational establishment using that name without the consent of the SWSF. SWSF answers to Dornach. Obviously. What else? International conferences are held to determine guidelines for what a waldorf steiner school should be, you’ll find one interesting document here: http://www.paedagogik-goetheanum.ch/uploads/media/RB_37_english.pdf. From p 12 onwards. As far as I can see, it is the Bristol school’s intention to be a part of the SWSF. This has consequences, as far as anthroposophy is concerned.
A school that doesn’t want to stand behind the stuff that is essential for a Rudolf Steiner school can, of course, call it something else. (Like the Fullfledge school appears to have done.) But that doesn’t remove the need for transparency. They still need to explain which anthroposophical ideas are used, and which are not.
Joe Evans only has to be upfront about the ideas that *will* influence the Bristol school. If it is going to be a Steiner school, there isn’t a choice about the anthroposophical foundation. Joe suggested that all Steiner schools are independent and have their own ethos — that’s plainly not true. When it comes to practical details — sure, they can have some independence (as far as I can tell, they don’t do much with the independence — all Steiner schools are surprisingly alike). But the ethos is not some kind of tiny detail — it is a very serious thing in a school that is based upon a particular worldview. And if there’s a desire for independence, why go with an organisation that is tied to a worldview that is supposed to influence all its operations?
I actually find it difficult to understand why anthroposophists don’t protest more against the Joes of the waldorf steiner world.
Well there are at least two explanations for why Joe gives the answers he does. And, as of yet, we do not know why.
Joe imagines he’s going to take over a McDonald’s franchise, and re-invent the Big Mac… It’s simply not going to happen Joe.
Joe thank you for commenting here.
Firstly, please feel free to post anything here you wish. But the important thing is to post your document on your own web site. It is not me you need to inform and convince, it is prospective parents.
To answer your points.
1) Note that you answered only one small part of my question about associations with the Anthroposophical Society – which you state there are none. I asked about relationships with the Anthroposophical Movement. Deliberately, to see what formal and informal relationships there were.
The question is then obvious, if we are to take that you have no links at face value – what exactly is your school then if it is a Steiner School without Anthroposophy? Are the SWSF aware and supportive of you? Note, that there has been a history of schools misleadingly denying links with Anthroposophy, so you will have to forgive if this question is pressed heavily. To me, I find it very naive (as Melanie suggests) or not entirely open.
2) This is the central question – and so I look forward to your detailed response.
But if we are to accept that you have no links to Anthroposophy what exactly are you taking from Steiner?
I see elsewhere that you plan to teach technology and computing from age 14 onwards. You plan to teach programming (good) but not until 14 (weird). Why is this? Is this because of sound pedagogical reasons with an evidence base (I know of none) or is it because Anthroposophists believe that such things should not be taught until astral body incarnates around the 14 year – a multiple of the occult number 7? You need to be clear to parents if your teaching decisions are based on sound evidence or spiritual and anthroposophical aims.
Imagine a parent attracted to your school because the Steiner name for them is associated with a progressive, alternative, nature-based leftish mindset. Then they read up and find Steiner was a racist, reactionary, mystical fascist. They will be smashing down your doors with any blunt instrument to hand. In the olden days, parents could then be encouraged to leave quietly – they might be embarrassed at their naivity, they might be persuaded just to leave and the school will waive their contractual financial obligations worth thousands. That is not an option in the state sector.
Best be fully open with parents up front and avoid the letters to newspapers, TV crews with thrusting cameras, MP involvement and so on.
3) This is a big and you have failed to address its importance.
But we before we look at that, you claim no association with Anthroposophy, but refer me to an Anthropsophical organisation for their statement on racism. Which way do you want to play this? Are you associated with those organisations or not?
But such statements miss what I was asking. Steiner was a racist. His philosophy was underpinned by a racist spiritual hierarchy. Anyone exposed to Steiner training or initiation will have been exposed to such views. Clearly, many anthros do not believe them to be racist views but statements of spiritual reality. How wil you ensure that in your school such views have no influence? That question is not going to go away until it is fully addressed.
4) I accept the intent of this response. If a teacher is Steiner trained, how will you ensure that what they teach is evidence based and not spiritually derived nonsense?
5) I know you will not teach any mainstream faith – that much I accept. But the question was about recognition of the spiritual and religious nature of Anthroposophy. Again, can be be clear to parents about the religious nature of the belief or ensure that no Anthroposophy enters the school? If the latter, again, why are you calling yourself a Steiner School?
6) I am glad no Anthroposophical doctor will be allowed in your school. But your statement on vaccines is similar to other Steiner Schools that end up with unprotected children. So, let me be specific. Will you be assisting government policy of offering girls HPV vaccination and allowing this to take place in school? If not, you should be clear to prospective parents of your stance as a population of unvaccinated children is a critical aspect of decision making, don’t you think?
7) I am happy for the gnomes.
As for your desire not to debate what Steiner wrote or meant, isn’t that rather important for a school that plans to teach according to a Steiner ‘ethos’? That statement rather suggests a misunderstanding of the concerns.
I look forward to seeing your review document on your website,
I’m looking forward to Joe’s reply as it might prove useful to me. In Australia, government funding is available for religiously-based private schools. As such, I’d like to start a Catholic school in my local community – but with a difference. I don’t think much of the Pope or his views on contraception, abortion or gay marriage. And, as for the Jesus guy, I really have no interest in anything he said or did. Interest in funding my idea is somewhat lacking so far.
As someone who knows relatively little about this subject, this thread is interesting. At least the Bristol guy has politely tried to answer your questions, in the form you asked them. In fact this is a courtesy, as the principle of Steiner free-schools has now been generally accepted, which he is not personally responsible for.
I hope you will give him the opportunity to flesh his ideas out further without simply accusing him of lying, or he might not bother.
It’s very simple – seek public funding, face public scrutiny. Now that IS generally accepted.
It would be, I agree, much easier for ‘the Bristol guy’ to slip away, as he did from Alicia Hamberg’s blog. Meanwhile, readers can ponder the analysis of green campaigner Glen Vowles in his post about the Bristol Steiner Free school: ‘Steiner and science’ – http://vowlesthegreen.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/steiner-and-science.html
I can see from his comments on Glen Vowles’ blog that Joe Evans agrees with me that there will not be enough Steiner teachers for their enormous academy. Therefore he intends to take PGCE trained teachers and train them ‘in-house’ for a year ‘to integrate them into the way we’re going to work.’ This will help because ‘it will also give us control over the specific Steiner training that they receive, allowing us to build our own ethos and practices.’
He really has absolutely no idea what he’s doing. But Glen Vowles does a great job taking him on.
I’ll just add that that the chances of the Bristol Steiner-lite Academy finding sufficient reasonably competent PGCE trained teachers to agree to be integrated ‘into the way we’re going to work’ are not very great. In fact it isn’t going to happen, is it? And if they’re not going to alter the pedagogy so radically that nothing remains but the drifting threads of gnome beards, they are still left with the same problem.
The pedagogy of Steiner education is based squarely on anthroposophy. They have to face this – stop making things up as they go along – and stop running away.
When a Waldorf school is pressed to find Waldorf-qualified teachers, they are the most vulnerable. That’s when they are tempted to hire qualified but problematic teachers from across the Atlantic. The US gets the worst teachers from the UK, and teachers escaping their bad reputation in the US find work in the UK. Bristol will most certainly have its share of bad apples.
Just thought I’d mention that the teacher we’ve been discussing, who taught the racist lesson, was Waldorf-trained in the UK. She came to the USA, and has been teaching for a few decades. When the racism issue got too hot in Southern California, she moved across the country. If she catches too much heat there, who knows, she may be then next new science teacher at Bristol. It only seems fair, since you guys trained her. 😀
I have heard all this stuff before. Why don’t you self-appointed guardians of the public good get a life and let people do their own homework? I would encourage any parents considering a waldorf education to talk to parents, teachers and particularly students and ex-students. Make a note of how many brain-washed zealots you meet. My son attended a Steiner school in Alice Springs and loved it. He is a well-rounded young man, who enjoyed science, maths and English at high school and did very well. He also became a good violinist thanks to the music education he received. He is now in his third year of aerospace engineering at Monash university. he shows no interest in anthroposophy, and nor do any of his friends who went through the school with him. As far as I can tell, he is an agnostic, probably tending towards atheism. He shows no signs of racism, and i have never heard make him a racist remark, even after he has been attacked on apparently racially motivated grounds a number of times when he was growing up in Alice Springs. I investigated anthroposophy and found it curious, but not for me, while I found what I considered the essential tents of Steiner education convincing and worthwhile. Which is my business as a parent. Finding out what education you think is best for your child is your business as a parent. Don’t be misled by people who spend all their spare hours ferreting skeletons out of the closet, often because they are motivated by an evangelical agenda, whether it be Christian fundamentalist (who also hate Waldorf) or atheists. Remember many “great men”” in history had complicated lives and minds, and believed in strange things. George Bernard Shaw were keen on eugenics and H.G. Wells advocated people become “enlightened nazis” in order to advance their ideas. You will find in any education system teachers, especially in the state system, who want to model children according to their own beliefs. For my part, I have seen Steiner education and it works.
Dave – that is all we are doing. Encouraging parents to ‘do their homework’ and suggesting the school should be open about what “Steiner” means. You investigated Steiner’s views and ended up “curious”. Others may do so and end up “Disgusted and appalled”. You may then make your own decisions. But whilst the schools remain silent, there are risks parents will make decisions they later regret.
Dave, it’s somewhat ironic that you feel entitled to comment on this from Australia, while you feel that here in Bristol we should refrain from commenting on the proposed removal of part of our school system from local democratic control.
The reality is that there are a lot of problems with the schools in Bristol, as a result of which desperate parents game the catchment system by temporarily moving house or hock everything to go private.
The answer is more investment in the existing infrastructure, not an ideological experiment run by people who admit that the details of their proposal haven’t been worked out.
I’m pleased that your son had a good outcome from his Steiner education, but many have a much less happy experience.
if you are simply ‘curious’ about the racism that is fully integrated into the Anthroposophic schema, rather than angry and appalled, perhaps you would not recognise racism in your son or yourself.
I think Dave has left the building.
And what do you suggest that homework should comprise? I note you have addressed none of the factual concerns that have been raised, such as Steiner’s views on a racial hierarchy. Can you refute the evidence that Andy has presented that Steinerists systematically misrepresent what their real views are and prefer to engage in PR exercises to conceal the unpalatable parts of Steinerism rather than confront them? Of course, these tactics would rather undermine the homework that you advocate.
If Steiner education is stripped of nonsense and unpleasant ideas, what are you left with?
You also seem happy with you son’s education. But, there is no meaningful way to respond to the outcome of a single student, you have nothing with which to compare it in a controlled objective manner. If that needs to be made more explicit, you cannot know whether your son would have done better under a different system, you cannot know whether he performed well by the normal standards despite Steiner methods rather than because of them.
We also have no way of testing at this remove what your and your son’s attitudes are to race and other personal beliefs and how they may have been coloured by the education process. What Andy and others have shown is that Steiner beliefs are highly coloured by a number of beliefs that appear either weird or just plain wrong. Education tells a child what is ‘normal’ and we have no way of knowing what version of normal your local school has presented to its students. The point is that, by definition, you would regard that as normal and be incapable of comparing it with other standards.
Let us look at one objective measure, the adoption of fringe medical practices by Steiner followers: did you follow a normal childhood vaccination protocol; do you use homeopathic remedies?
I have a few minutes spare so will pick up another of your comments.
It may have escaped your notice, but neither GBS nor HGW have bands of followers in the modern world dedicated to the founding of schools explicitly based in their philosophies and beliefs. We are free, therefore, to enjoy their works of literature, examine their ideas and consider the more barmpot of their opinions in an historical proper context.
Actually, if Dave has not finally left the building, I’d be interested to know how he found this blog. Obviously Andy Lewis is a world-straddling global power whose name rings out even in the dead heart of Australia like it does everywhere else, but how does a simple passing cobber who just happened to send his son to Gnome School also just happen to find this blog amongst the whole interweb.
Good question o irregularly hirsute simian.
I believe that the supremo at Quack Central HQ allocates one nutter per sceptical post to wreak havoc with our patience and tolerance and to exasperate us beyond belief. That is why there is usually only one per posting (apart from the Hopi ear candling one which really drew the nutters out of the earwax). If it is not AFC it is Iqbal or some other fruitcake. My favourite was “Not A Witch Doctor” on DC’s site (she was).
Acting as a Rapid Respone Unit of highly untrained solo Quack Ninjas they can easily cover huge swathes of the Internet and tie up gigabytes of bandwidth annoying the readers of The Quackometer, Respectful Insolence, Improbable Science and their ilk.
If logistics and ninja allocation permit they also act like tag wrestlers or relay teams (a la the ear candlers) and mount concerted drivel assaults on sites. Jabbophobes and the Goddidit Brigade are very good at this.
The reason they only tend to show up once is that all the rational feedback down that bandwidth enters their brains and sets of a Cognitive Dissonance Bomb which addles their already somewhat precarious minds. The attrition rate is very high.
Unfortunately so is the supply of replacement nutcases.
So we, and the prospective parents and students of Bristol are none the wiser as to the beliefs and practices of the proposed Bristol Steiner School; it seems true to pattern – cult followers do not consider lesser mortals worthy of a proper explanation; I expect they think we are too spiritually unaware to understand; particularly those of us who, being yellow or brown, are already showing our past misdeeds – not on our sleeves – but on our very skin. I sincerely hope those are not values actually believed by the Anthroposophists but the fact that they illicit curiosity amongst the faithful rather than horror or disgust makes me think my position is realistic rather than fanciful.
Could I ask a question (for once a genuine one).
Is there any demonstrable benefit to postponing the age at which children learn to read (and presumably write and learn arithmetic).
Intuitively I feel there is no benefit.
Is anyone with some knowledge of the processes, practices and theories of learning able to comment on this.
The reason for asking is simple. I read a lot of biographies of “famous” scientists (and some infamous ones – step forward Midgley). Despite huge variations in background, historical period, class, education etc one theme which appears regularly is the ability to read very early on (for example being able to read English and Latin at the age of five).
It seems to me that being able to read is a “gateway” to all other education. After all you could not even cobble together some quack or creationist drivel if you cannot read Conservapedia or Answers In Genesis.
Hi John, various studies from countries such as Finland where the school starting age is 7, have demonstrated that children who start earlier have no advantage over later starters after a few years, that is, the children that start later quickly catch up. One reason, it is suggested, is that children that start later have acquired more language (vocabulary) and therefore read much faster. It is also suggested that children of 4/5 years do noth have the physical ability to follow a line of text, for example, or to sit still and concentrate.Many things can be taught orally and through experimentation and discussion rather than through reading.
Really great post and some great comments. A few thoughts:
Nick wrote: “I think one of the reasons that the Anthroposophical hierarchy refuse to be open and clear about the extent of their belief (or not)in Steiner’s racial hierarchy is that they think it has some merit.”
Yes. That’s my experience as well. Initially (years ago), I assumed that anthroposophists and Waldorf supporters didn’t reject the racist Steiner because they didn’t know about the racist parts or somehow didn’t really understand them. For many Waldorf parents, that may be true. However, years of interacting with zealous anthroposophists online opened my eyes. It sometimes takes awhile for it to come out, but if you get an anthroposophist to fully engage in discussing the actual racist texts in Steiner, eventually, they will often end up revealing that they agree with them. They just don’t want to say so in so many words, because they know it’s socially unacceptable to be racist.
“Yes, we will be open about our relationship with the Anthroposophical Society. We currently don’t have one and none of the members of our steering group are members. We have no plans for any formal connection with them as a school.”
Yes, that’s usually how it’s done. “Formal” connections are conveniently eschewed. “Informal” connections do just as much harm if not more, for the very reason that they are eschewed.
“We reject Steiner’s views on race; we reject racism in all forms; our school will operate according to a publicly available equal opportunities policy”
This is the usual confusion between racism and “equal opportunities.” No one is accusing the Steiner school of failing to provide “equal opportunities” to anyone. The Steiner schools have never, to my knowledge, been accused of discriminating against anyone in terms of admission or equal treatment of students. It might almost be better if they *did* discriminate, because the issue is that the racism in Steiner’s teachings, which – presumably this is obvious – is more deleterious to those against whom they are so pointedly not discriminating.
Steiner believed that everyone, regardless of skin color, race, etc., is able to progress spiritually. The curriculum is designed to equally aid ALL students in this process. The problem is just that he believed that some people had further to go to progress spiritually – namely, those with darker skins, as he believed that darker skin reflects a lower level of spiritual advancement in general.
“This seems to be the pattern when the initial organisers don’t come from the anthroposophical community. I was involved in the setting up of a Steiner school in London just over a decade ago and was for a while a trustee of that school. None of those who founded the school were anthroposophists, we relied on the pedagogical guidance and opaque expressions of the kindergarten teacher/priestess sent by the SWSF with an ‘impulse’ to support the initiative, and were often baffled by the consequences. Occasionally Christopher Clouder of the SWSF drifted by in a suit, holding a clip-board, but I was usually cleaning the kindergarten loos (this is what the mothers do) and was not invited to join the conversation.”
This is hysterical, but exactly what happens time and time again.
Alicia asked why doesn’t the anthroposophical movement have a problem with people like Joe, but also answered her own question – it’s because he’s useful. (Not just he, but Melanie, and me, and countless others who have helped get a Waldorf school up and running, only to find that *some other someones* with some *other* ideas had in mind all along swiftly giving us the boot once much of the dirty work had been done.) As Alicia put it, he can’t spill the beans ‘cus he doesn’t really have any beans to spill. Thus, he is quite useful. Almost all Steiner schools are started by parent dupes, useful idiots.
The Steinerist lobby say they refute all Steiner’s racism, you say it’s still part of the curriculum, therefore actively creating racism. Meanwhile Michael Gove wants to take Mary Seacole and William Wilberforce out of circulation for all schools, dumbing down black history for everyone.
Do you have any evidence that students coming out of Steiner are actually more racist than anyone else? I’ve read all your post etc but this seems like a stalemate. You say yes, the other side says no. What is needed is evidence, not of Steiner’s racism but of Steiner education producing racists today. Then it would move beyond the level of a chat, towards something more constructive.
The problem of racism in Steiner Schools is not that they teach kids to be racist. That is a crude caricature that the Steinerists exploit to deny what is going on.
The problem is that Steiner taught that people who were not blue-eyed blondes were somehow less spiritually advanced and the role of Steiner pedagogy is to help all towards spiritual advancement. This leads to people with different coloured skin being systematically treated differently within the education system according to Steiners rules. This is not like racism you might meet at a skin head rally. This is insidious crypto-religious racism, a belief in which, I would suggest, blinds you to important aspects of non-discrimination.
It is up to the Steiner Schools to recognise how Steiner’s teachings are racist and to show how they ensure such influences are no longer present. Without such assurances, we must assume they are still there despite claims to be ‘non-racist’. The onus is on the schools to produce the evidence that things have changed given the huge evidence of racism in Steiner’s texts. It is their move. They do not want to.
“Do you have any evidence that students coming out of Steiner are actually more racist than anyone else?”
Is that really the point? Or is the real question whether there is any evidence that Steiner schools TEACH Steiner’s views on racism to students. The answer is a resounding YES! A Waldorf teacher taught Steiner’s racism to my child and when I complained, representatives from the school met with me on several occasions to confirm that they supported the lesson. So, the evidence is that not only do individual teachers sometimes let Steiner’s racism slip into their lessons, but that sometimes schools support this when it happens. This particular school, BTW, is the campus for Waldorf teacher TRAINING in Southern California… so the fact that the support the teaching of racism is no small matter.
“This leads to people with different coloured skin being systematically treated differently within the education system according to Steiners rules.”
This is exactly the kind of evidence that is needed. Where is it?
If they’ve made public statements refuting both Steiner’s racism and current racism and there are no incidents being recorded, why is the onus on them? How can they prove a negative?
“If they’ve made public statements refuting both Steiner’s racism and current racism and there are no incidents being recorded, why is the onus on them?”
They taught that “the blood of people from Europe is more evolved than the blood of people from Africa and Asia”. This was in PHYSIOLOGY class. The teacher who taught this lesson moved to a different school. The school where the lesson was taught stood behind the lesson when it was taught six years ago, and showed their support again only two years ago… as far as I know, the school has never changed its stance on the lesson. Did my kid become a racist over that lesson? No. But that’s not the point at all!
In answer to your comment Pete, Yes, I do think that is the point. Because of how totally shocking that is! That’s a truly horrific piece of information! Why is this teacher still out there teaching this when there are laws against racial discrimination!
It sounds to me like this teacher, if they’d been properly exposed, might have been a catylist for persuading Gove to look again at this situation. So where’s this teacher? And where are the adults who can testify to this? There must be lots in fact if this teacher had been teaching for even a few years. Several adults, and a class action? So a school has been peddling this rubbish for at least SIX years, they need to be stopped from doing that, like, at least six years ago. I don’t mean to be abrupt, sorry if it sounds that way, but it’s very extreme isn’t it.
(Andy, sorry if this is repetitious. I did try and post this reply twice earlier but something might have gone awry. I’m just trying again because I think my point has been misunderstood as being somehow condoning this teaching when that’s not my view at all; certainly don’t want that to be misunderstood or represented).
” So where’s this teacher? ”
” And where are the adults who can testify to this? ”
Several adults attended conferences about this incident with staff from the school. In the end, the school just stopped being interested in resolving anything. The teacher remained there for several years and then moved on to the school I linked to above. They REALLY didn’t think there was anything wrong with the lesson. One dimwitted teacher called it “out of Africa” theory. Is it “extreme”? NO… in fact race lessons in Waldorf are barely noticeable. I only found out about the lesson while my child and I were talking about something completely different. It wasn’t as if it was *noticed* something wrong had been taught. My child thought they were learning science.
“Why is this teacher still out there teaching this when there are laws against racial discrimination! ”
Let’s be clear… Waldorf schools don’t “discriminate” when enrolling children. ALL children need to advance spiritually (according to Steiner) – and Waldorf schools want all children to advance (and eventually become white). So, they will certainly enroll children of color.
Andy, I agree about the nature of institutional racism and I consider it to be more dangerous, in some ways, than open violence. When skin heads used to ‘own’ many of the roadside pubs in the late 1970s and early 1980s at least we knew where they were and who to avoid. But when the racism is more subtly applied it’s very hard to present solid evidence but the consequences can be devastating. When objective tests can be done – necessarily covertly – hidden racism is often exposed.
But, Sally, to assume that firm evidence is available to prove social forces exist is to confuse the nature of social discourse and scientific discourse; the latter being able to be tested because it’s possible to replicate experiment. The former, however, does not have a stock of replica societies available to provide controls or randomisation. But we know, for example, that the misogyny and homophobia as written into the major Abrahamic religions’ texts still resonate throughout the world today. We know that empires have been built and genocides carried out on the flimsiest of unwritten racist assumptions. We know also that racism (and misogyny and homophobia) has been rife in schools that do not subscribe to a specific racist doctrine.
The Steiner/Waldorf education system is today unique (in the UK) in that it is a modern system based on racist underpinnings that has a written racist hierarchy at its heart. And the fact that such Anthroposophic influences stretch into farming, banking, disability politics and many other areas of life is of great concern. Finally, there is the direct effect that racist sentiments have on those of colour who come into contact with them; we feel at the very least unwelcome and often physically unsafe – not because those around us might be overt racist thugs but because they have willingly and cheerfully (and often with great confidence) signed up to a racist system from which racist thugs gain succour and legitimacy. To even consider that a written racist doctrine promoted by a powerful and wealthy organasation can be considered harmless is to be, at best, somewhat naive about how racism has been propagated throughout history and might be considered to be offering an excuse for inexcusable behaviour.
Work by many universities and organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Runnymede Trust have accumulated a large amount of data that suggests that institutional racism and the misnamed ‘petty racism’
continued from above
Work by many universities and organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Runnymede Trust have accumulated a large amount of data that suggests that institutional racism and the misnamed ‘petty racism’ in the UK severely diminishes the life-chances of non-white people. It is not up non-white people to prove that racist ideologies lead to racist social systems (no social effects are open to proof) but it is up to people following racist ideologies to adequately explain their inconsistent position when they claim to oppose racism.
Hi Nick, whilst acknowledging your attempt to explain things to me, I have to admit to being a bit shocked at the assumptions you are making about me. Especially this:
“To even consider that a written racist doctrine promoted by a powerful and wealthy organasation can be considered harmless is to be, at best, somewhat naive about how racism has been propagated throughout history and might be considered to be offering an excuse for inexcusable behaviour.”
Who did that? How can you extrapolate any idea of harmlessness from my suggestion that individual cases of racial discrimination are the only thing that have a hope in hell of changing Government policy on any institutionally racist education system? Does that sound as if I think it’s harmless? How so? How can you turn it round and suggest that I may be doing that, insinuating that I’m somehow propping up racism by advocating action against it?
That’s incredibly patronising, but it’s not unusual. Paternalism is everywhere, and it’s just as much as part of sexism as it is of racism, but I can’t dispense with it just because I don’t like it. I’d need to prove something concrete with hard facts – that’s how all the social advances that we all take for granted have been made.
You say that “no social effects are open to proof”, but this is not so. The relative damage of differing types of racism may not be open to scientific RCT’s, but that’s to mix things up in an unhelpful way. The standard for “truth” in social matters is no easier to achieve for not being able to be discussed in absolutes as you refer to in science. (How a serious discussion of Institutional racism, which you say is even more damaging than street hate has got reduced to a mere “social effect” I’m not sure.)
Law is a construct, made by humans. It’s also the only standard we can test inequalities against. It’s flawed, just like us, but it’s there.
In law, you generally have to prove, not just that it happened, but also causation, i.e. that what happened actually caused the damage. That’s just the standard, the burden of proof of harm is on you/us/whoever finds the harm. Not third hand stories, or hyperbole, but actual proof of actual damage to people due to Steiner racism. Not because I say so, but because that’s the law.
If you really want to address the real racism in Steiner education now, it’s time to persuade people to follow some of these situations through. Quick and easy? No. Doable as an intellectual exercise? No. Effective? Yes, surely.
Racism is not merely something academic, and neither are the remedys. This racism described above is simply horrendous and it’s not good enough to simply analyse it, but it needs to be addressed through the proper channels. Anything else is simply irresponsible and leaves it there to continue damaging people. Provable facts are what’s needed, facts that add up to evidence of harm. No matter that this might involve subterfuge. If you’re serious, these are the standards required. Where are they in Steiner?
I hope someone does actually get the point here, which is that there are laws against racial discrimination and although it’s work to use them, that is the job at hand, and not just come back at me with some patronising tripe about me not understanding things or assume that because I’m suggesting a logical set of actions to address institutional racism, that I can’t understand what racism IS…
Sorry for length of reply and also for any repetitions. 🙂
Perhaps it was this that prompted me to reply at such length:
” I’ve read all your post etc but this seems like a stalemate. You say yes, the other side says no. What is needed is evidence, not of Steiner’s racism but of Steiner education producing racists today. Then it would move beyond the level of a chat, towards something more constructive.”
It’s true I know nothing your history but, equally, you know nothing of my history. The state of the fight against the racism in Steiner’s schema does not feel like a stalemate to me at all. I feel that the anti-racist position has validity while the pro-racist position does not. I’m not saying your actions are not constructive, I’m simply being forthright about my own position in response to your comment. I also think that our ‘chat’ on this blog is constructive and that institutional racism is ‘real’. Perhaps I did not appreciate your position but you did seem to belittle the contributions made here.
“I also think that our ‘chat’ on this blog is constructive..” Thanks Nick, me too. It’s important to look for common ground and I’m glad you’re not knocking constructive actions against racism, although you didn’t actually pick up my direct responses to your technical points about standards of proof in science vs society (which I referred to as being subject to legal standards) which I would be interested in hearing.
And I also agree that my first sentence was inaccurate and should have said “racism” at the end and not “racists”. I’m not belittling talking, but robustly advocating constructive action.
The most important word in what I said is evidence. What Pete, above, describes is so abhorrent that I believe the perpetrator of it must be made to answer for it. This teacher has freely taken it upon themselves to distort any educational principle to spread paternalistic racism, with casual indifference to the dehumanising effects. They are responsible for that.
There is no way that informed and concerned people should not be somehow gaining the necessary evidence to do something concrete about it.
I can’t see how else it’s to be accomplished and when so many are against it, its hard to see why is it continuing.
Are parents in these schools dopey and unable to recognise the effects of such brutal teaching? It’s hard to believe this teaching won’t keep emerging from children, who innocently repeat whatever they’ve been taught at school in ordinary conversation. But if that’s somehow uniquely not happening in Steiner’s education and parents are totally unaware, that just shows how badly the evidence is needed to shock and disabuse those parents.
The only other real alternative is that parents are fully aware of the racism and like Nick says “cheerfully” colluding for their own benefit. In this case it needs exposing even more because that would be a large willing gang of racists.
It’s hard to find another viable scenario to keep such a system going. I suppose you could add another scenario which is neither completely one thing or the other on the basis that parents “heard that some people think Steiner is racist but don’t take it that seriously” but again, that can only come down to a lack of evidence (as distinct from stories, which being unprovable are likely to be adding to this vagueness rather than reducing it).
In fact UK Steiner schools are currently pretty full of themselves, and with reason since they’ve been trying for state-funding for a very long time! We had a very brief go in a UK Steiner nursery with ours over 15 years ago, and remember parents talking about the high fees and saying “one-day”…
Please tell me actions are at least getting underway!
“The most important word in what I said is evidence. What Pete, above, describes is so abhorrent that I believe the perpetrator of it must be made to answer for it. This teacher has freely taken it upon themselves to distort any educational principle to spread paternalistic racism, with casual indifference to the dehumanising effects. They are responsible for that.”
NO… That’s absolutely WRONG Sally. This teacher did NOTHING wrong in the Waldorf world. This isn’t a story about one misguided teacher who happened to parrot what Steiner himself believed.
The school, a teacher training center, APPROVED of the lesson. They don’t think it’s racist at all. They think it’s a spiritual TRUTH! Sure, it’s a truth they aren’t supposed to let slip out to the wrong ears… but those Waldorf teachers who call themselves Anthroposophists absolutely believe in racially divided spiritual hierarchies. They believe black children are black because they are on a lower rung of the spiritual ladder than white children. It’s OK, they just have a lot more climbing to do.
Waldorf teachers assess and work with each child in accordance with their race. It’s part of what they are taught to do. It’s one of the ways Steiner differentiated children… along with the temperaments, large and small-headed, left and right handed, (don’t even get me started on blond haired and blue eyed)…
These distinctions are EXTREMELY important to Waldorf teachers if they are to properly guide the physical and spiritual growth and development of the children they are working with.
I agree entirely with your reply to Sally.
The public sector equality duty (that covers institutional racism) has for years been to foster values and practices that enable equality of opportunity and outcome. It is not up to the victims to prove anything or to be responsible for providing evidence; it is up to the public body (such as a state-funded school or a private school that impacts on the wider community – in practice that’s all schools)to demonstrate they have values and practices in place and to monitor their equality performance and report continuous improvement.
I’ve been involved in several cases over the years, mostly as Chair of a Black Employees Support Group connected to employment, but once on my own behalf and a). no judges or courts were involved – they were all decided by Tribunal and b). the burden of proof was limited to demonstrating a probability that the victims have been victimised by the actions and policies of the organisation. Evidence from victims is welcomed but is not considered essential when the behaviour, values or actions of the organisation in question is clearly unfair (racist/sexist/homophobic etc).
The law has, in my experience, not required proof of evidence because, as I’ve said, no proof can be made in cases of societal causation – evidence of right-doing is required from the organisation – not evidence of wrong doing. It is accepted by professionals in this field that a lack of equality values and policies will allow inequality to flourish.
In the case of Steiner, the racism is written in to the value system explicitly. If present and past governments supported their own Equality and Human Rights policies then Steiner would have been closed down. The reason why we ‘chat’ about it is some of us have already tried action via the EHRC and they really don’t want to know. The only other course would be a private civil action for which it is unlikely that legal aid would be available.
I honestly don’t see it’s a problem. After all there are all sorts of faith schools and no one seems to point out that the Bible has passages that promote slavery, genocide, underage sex and all sorts of nasty misogynistic stuff.
To be honest I’m worried that you are a bit of an ‘occult basher’ motivated by… who knows?
An ‘occult basher’! Good one.
Read my last paragagraphs. I make quite clear why my issues are specific to Steiner Schools and not ‘faith’ schools.
I’d like to address a couple of points.
John H and ‘patty’, on the subject of leaving reading until age seven: As evidence of the benefits of waiting until children are aged seven to start direct and systematic teaching of reading, the Steiner and anti-phonics lobbyists can be relied on to flag up Finland, where all children achieve literacy within weeks of starting formal school – aged seven. What they don’t say is that Finland has a completely transparent alphabet code, and most parents teach their children to read pre-school as it’s so easy to do. They also omit to mention Denmark where, as in Finland, the school starting age is seven, but it has an opaque alphabet code. Danish children ‘experience difficulties in acquiring the logographic and alphabetic foundation processes which are comparable to those observed in English, although less extreme’ (Seymour/Aro/Erskine) Additionally, they neglect to cite evidence from the Netherlands. Children in the Netherlands start formal school at the same age as British children (5yrs.old). Despite this ‘early’ start, they, along with the majority of European children, learn to read and write accurately within the first school year. ‘Foundation literacy acquisition by non-English European groups is not affected by gender and is largely independent of variations in the ages at which children start formal schooling’ (Seymour/Aro/Erskine p150) http://www.dyslexics.org.uk/main_method_2.htm
‘Sally’ says that, ‘Michael Gove wants to take Mary Seacole and William Wilberforce out of circulation for all schools, dumbing down black history for everyone’
In actual fact Seacole and Wilberforce were never in the statutory history curriculum, so they can’t be taken out.
Thank you Susan.
My guess would also be that many (most?) Finnish children probably attend kindergarten from 3-4 onwards, much as they do in Germany. I have little doubt that if they do they probably make some progress in basic literacy. I hope so as there seems to be little else to do in Finland but drink and read.
As an aside I lived in Germany for five years and at first I could not understand why German children seemed to spend all day in the “Gymnasium”. I thought they were trying to breed a new master race until I found out it meant grammar school.
Andy, I’m concerned that you have not published my (2) replies to Pete, above.
I have also written a reply to Nick (which I was checking over prior to posting) as he too seems to want to interpret my comments as somehow colluding with racism whereas the opposite is true.
I’m appalled not to be able to correct this when in actual fact a LOT of assumptions about my own experience of racism have been made here! It’s important that any person should be able to answer such insinuations on a blog post which is all about racism!
Would you please clarify whether my comments have somehow gone awry, and not come through or have you decided not to allow me to correct this mistaken impression. It’s hard to believe that you would allow others to insinuate that I condone racism without knowing anything at all about me, and without allowing me to reply… Especially on the basis that I suggested strong and specific action to remedy it.
From your earnest approach to the subject you certainly don’t seem like the sort of guy to do that, but about wanting the debate. I’m confused. Please can you clarify this for me. Cheers
I am not aware of any unpublished replies. Nothing in my pending box. Very few responses get moderated.
Sally, for the second time. I have not seen any comments from you end up in moderation. If you have submitted comments, they look to have got lost. I have no idea why. Please resubmit.
I rarely disallow comments. They would have to be abusive, off topic, or selling something.
With the Republican sweep at the state level in the last US election, there is a renewed push for charter schools. Like the UK they come in all stripes. The charter schools typically get the same state and local funds per pupil, but no contribution toward facilities.
There have been a couple of virtual school proposals floated and that has caused much controversy. The popular characterization is of a remote, uncaring faculty siphoning off money with no “skin in the game.” I await further developments on this front.
“With the Republican sweep at the state level in the last US election, there is a renewed push for charter schools.”
I wonder if Mitch McConnell will be leading the charge… 😉
I wrote: “I wonder if Mitch McConnell will be leading the charge…”
For those not familiar with this case, Senator Mitch McConnell’s daughter, Claire McConnell, is a Waldorf teacher who became famous for abusing children in a Waldorf school- twice. Her actions were excused by AWSNA (the body the oversees Waldorf in the USA). After eventually leaving the school, Claire found a teaching position IN THE UK. http://www.wave3.com/Global/story.asp?S=1364683&nav=0RZFGxHZ
I want to pick up a comment from Sally that is not solely related to the issue of racism, so I’ll start a new line of discussion with it.
I’ve commented before in other places about a curious overlap between the hippy-dippy altie fringe and a fascistic worldview. Essential to many New Age believers is the idea that we have control over our minds and bodies and that all diseases and illnesses can be controlled by the proper exercise of the will over our personal biology. If your SCAM therapy fails to cure you then it is significantly your fault. I think there are two motivations for this. One is a genuine belief that we do have this power, so a logical consequence of a failure of treatment is to blame the individual patient. However, time and again, I have seen a tendency by therapists and commentators not directly involved in a specific case to blame the individual for not trying hard enough which is thrown up as an ad hoc excuse for the objective failure of the given therapy to have any effect. This is one if the most distressing features of the case histories of patients who have given themselves over to SCAM treatment for cancer.
This tendency to blame the individual is at the core if many of these belief systems, so it comes as no surprise to me that the flaky parents of Steiner kids would find it easy to accept the ideas of karmic consequences and in-built racial deficiencies.
I hereby invoke Godwin’s Law. Even a brief consideration of the whole back-to-the-land volk wisdom of the Nazi era and its esoteric religious underpinnings would detect a lot of similarities with New Age beliefs. On the surface you may see dirndls versus kaftans, but, underneath, the similarities are unmistakable.
As a final aside, I do wonder whether this essential unpleasantness at the core of much New Age belief is why its followers turn so nasty so quickly when challenged.
At https://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/atoms I found a quote by Steiner on electricity:
“[T]hrough the electrification of the atoms we transform them into carriers of evil …
[W]hen we imagine matter in the form of atoms, we transform these atoms into carriers of death; but when we electrify matter, Nature is conceived as something evil. For electric atoms are little demons of Evil.”
Quoting Steiner seems sufficient to parody him.
Perhaps the best caricature of a Steiner school would be to use the witch’s house in Hansel & Gretel. Gnomes, dancing and music on the outside and terrible karma on the inside.
At the same site JimR linked to, former Waldorf student Roger Rawlings describes a lesson very similar to what they taught my kid. https://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/blood
“As a student at a Waldorf school, I was taught that there are significant differences between the blood of white people and the blood of other races.”
The difference being, the lesson was taught around five decades ago. Nothing has changed in Waldorf’s way of thinking about the races – and nothing will EVER change. What Steiner said about the races are the very foundation of Anthroposophy. It’s the baby, not the bathwater.
I can’t reply to the comments to Pete and Nick specifically, perhaps the limit on replies has been reached, so I’ll just add my two pennyworth here.
In spite of Pete’s capitals, I’ll stick to my guns here, thanks. Of course I wasn’t referring to whether or not the teacher has done anything wrong ‘within’ the Steiner world, I think (hope) we’re all on the same page here that there is racism, that they are promoting it, and that they all apparently absolutely love all that.
I was actually talking about the fact of discrimination in the r e a l world, where people are only subject to such normal secular cults as celebrity etc., In the real world, that teacher is totally responsible for their actions, discriminatory as they are, whatever insiders think.
I’m sure if I was a Steiner person reading this I’d be going “no no there’s nothing wrong with any of that at all”, as Pete keeps saying, but I’m not and I hope it’s ok with Pete and others that I’m not too keen (putting it mildly) to look at the situation from their point of view at all, so please take my comments as simply not coming from anywhere near that position.
So to Nick’s points:
I’d be really interested to see the records of the attempts you mention to bring such matters to ECHR. Are you saying that you personally have taken the Steiner issue there? Can you share that info in detail please? Why weren’t they interested? What kind of disinterest was it?
I also totally get that you’re looking at this from the point of view of institutions having to prove that they have healthy policies regarding race, rather than victims having to prove that they don’t and I’m genuinely interested in that. In that case it’s great to know that “evidence of right-doing is required from the organisation – not evidence of wrong doing”. Have you brought such an action against Steiner? Would you be able to share the details?
It’s still true that the non-burden of proof you’re referring to is because of the type of law you’re talking about using. In no way does that contradict any of my points about using specific laws governing fomentation of racial hatred, discrimination etc., under which actions are continually brought and which does rely on having evidence of wrongdoing.
I don’t see much argument between our positions; we both seem to agree that actions are necessary and we’re both advocating different sorts of actions. Surely in such a hard case, the more active approaches the better.
Banning all Steiner schools for being racist, if that’s what you’re advocating, while very commendable is also extremely ambitious. With a large movement that appears so used to ducking and diving, such a “once” approach is very interesting. However, they do seem adept at proliferating in ‘alternative’ forms of Steiner-lite etc., and making blanket public statements to the effect that they’ve now refuted Steiner’s racism completely. How are you going to prove, without going back to specific and concrete evidence, that that isn’t true?
It sounds to me as though you have tried some really commendable and extremely ambitious actions and I’m sure I’m not the only one that would like to know the details. Are they all in the past? What’s happening now? 🙂
Sally, I don’t disagree with you that the individual teacher should be held responsible to the law outside of Waldorf. Unfortunately, this is a private school and in the US that means they can get away with teaching this stuff on “legal” grounds. On moral grounds, I don’t think they get away with much. It’s shameful that they believe these things, more shameful that they espouse them, but unforgivable that they peddle this nonsense to children behind the backs of their parents.
“However, they do seem adept at proliferating in ‘alternative’ forms of Steiner-lite etc., and making blanket public statements to the effect that they’ve now refuted Steiner’s racism completely.”
Of course they can renounce Steiner’s racism – that’s what you want them to do, right? If that’s what it takes, you’ve got it! But as their lips are moving, their minds are thinking racism doesn’t apply to Steiner in any way, so sure, we can renounce Steiner’s racism and continue believing that not a single word he uttered is racist.
Here’s an Anthroposophist group discussing Waldorf critics and their “obsession” with racism… notice by the second post in the thread (here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/anthroposophy_now/message/2664) the Steiner’s racism comes out as if it’s fact.
Exposure is what Waldorf schools urgently need.
In fact a legal solution may not be much help. Most of the schools probably aren’t doing anything illegal. It isn’t illegal to be racist. It’s discrimination that’s illegal, and it’s rare that the Steiner schools are actually discriminating against anyone, in the legal sense. They definitely have equal opportunity admissions policies, and they teach everyone the same content. You might have cases where a teacher is treating some children differently from others on the basis of race, but then you’d have an individual lawsuit, if the parents thought they could prove it. We can’t fight the racism in the Steiner world one child at a time.
The notion of educating people – as opposed to suing people – shouldn’t be dismissed as meaningless or as “just talk.” Talk is the long-term solution IMO – making sure the wider public knows what Steiner taught is the issue.
A couple of further points – you couldn’t get them on “fomenting racial hatred,” I don’t think. I don’t think they foment racial hatred. They love everybody, and consider everybody equally capable of progressing spiritually. It’s just that everybody is at a different level in their spiritual development, and skin color is one (only one) indicator of that. There’s certainly a sense in which you could say that might foment racial hatred, but I think in a legal sense, it’s a non-starter. It’s not like they’re *mean* to kids with darker skin. It’s a form of paternalistic racism, not an inciting-violence kind of racism.
Second, asking them to show that they have proactive policies against racial discrimination isn’t going to get anywhere either, because they definitely have the same policies as everyone else, at least in writing.
Hello Diana, sorry I thought Pete said that the teacher definitely stated that “the blood of people from Europe is more evolved than the blood of people from Africa and Asia”.
If that isn’t racially discriminating, i.e. treating black people less favourably than others on the basis of race, what is?
I don’t see it as about fighting the racism in the Steiner world one child at a time, but as creating precedent that would certainly help to point the finger at them, if it can be proved.
Once there were a couple of rulings, or even one, it would be much easier to talk about even. because that’s pretty bad PR.
But even if it did feel like that, chipping away at a large block, if it’s that racist, isn’t it worth it?
It seems a bit of a faux argument between talk and action. Obviously talk is a necessary part of action anyway because of the necessity to organise, and it’s certainly helpful when people have had horrible experiences to help them get over that. As a tool for actual change, I’m not sure history bears out what you’re saying about talk being “the long term solution” as distinct (you appear to be saying) from action. What social change has ever been produced only by talking?
When all the public know what Steiner himself taught, and Steiner schools are still oversubscribed, what then?
Re your second para. It doesn’t matter how paternalistic racism is, it’s still racism. As discussed above, paternalism is a key part of all racism. And because of that I have to disagree with your comment that
“It’s not like they’re *mean* to kids with darker skin. It’s a form of paternalistic racism, not an inciting-violence kind of racism.”
Quietly feeding people the notion that they are inferior, IS mean. It’s just as mean as any other kind of racism. As all forms of oppression have their own particular barbs, in this case the delivery means that the person, (more especially a child), is invited to believe that these ideas originated inside them, which is untrue and an extremely violent thing to do to someone.
(Even if there are no black kids there, it’s still mean, because the same process may take place within other kids, they may become racially discriminatory themselves, and think this attitude originated inside them.)
There is no such thing as benign paternalism. It’s all the same. Soft voice, loud voice, there’s always the big stick. It’s about power and control – certainly not about “love”.
Re your last point, this is a circular argument that has arrived at exactly the point I was making above; i.e. the constant ‘adaptations’ of the movement highlight the need for concrete proof.
“Hello Diana, sorry I thought Pete said that the teacher definitely stated that “the blood of people from Europe is more evolved than the blood of people from Africa and Asia”.
If that isn’t racially discriminating, i.e. treating black people less favourably than others on the basis of race, what is?”
If you’re keen on practical progress on this problem, you need to focus a little better, I think. We agree that the teacher’s statement was completely unacceptable. It was probably not “discrimination” in the legal sense, however. It just isn’t illegal to be racist, or even to teach kids racist things. Therefore I don’t think a legal solution to that particular problem is the wisest approach.
“I don’t see it as about fighting the racism in the Steiner world one child at a time, but as creating precedent that would certainly help to point the finger at them, if it can be proved.”
Right. But discrimination can’t be proved, in that case. Discrimination is different from racism.
“Once there were a couple of rulings, or even one, it would be much easier to talk about even. because that’s pretty bad PR.”
Indeed; however, some of us aren’t having any problem talking about it anyway.
“But even if it did feel like that, chipping away at a large block, if it’s that racist, isn’t it worth it?”
If it would work, yes. If it’s not going to work, then better to spend the time, money and energy on solutions that WILL work.
“It seems a bit of a faux argument between talk and action. Obviously talk is a necessary part of action anyway because of the necessity to organise, and it’s certainly helpful when people have had horrible experiences to help them get over that. As a tool for actual change, I’m not sure history bears out what you’re saying about talk being “the long term solution” as distinct (you appear to be saying) from action. What social change has ever been produced only by talking?”
I agree it is to some extent a false dichotomy between talk and action. The specific action we were talking about was legal action. The legal situation varies in different locales, and there are certain situations that are amenable to legal solutions. The fact that Steiner taught some racist things, isn’t one of them, IMO.
“When all the public know what Steiner himself taught, and Steiner schools are still oversubscribed, what then?”
The public doesn’t know what Steiner taught, and you don’t know whether the schools would be oversubscribed at that point. I doubt it.
“Re your second para. It doesn’t matter how paternalistic racism is, it’s still racism. As discussed above, paternalism is a key part of all racism.”
There really are different types of racism. It’s not that one is better or worse than the other, but different problems call for different solutions, IMO.
“And because of that I have to disagree with your comment that “It’s not like they’re *mean* to kids with darker skin. It’s a form of paternalistic racism, not an inciting-violence kind of racism.”
Quietly feeding people the notion that they are inferior, IS mean. It’s just as mean as any other kind of racism. As all forms of oppression have their own particular barbs, in this case the delivery means that the person, (more especially a child), is invited to believe that these ideas originated inside them, which is untrue and an extremely violent thing to do to someone.
In the larger sense, you’re right, but what we were talking about was practical solutions to the problem. There are hate-crime type laws to deal with the inciting-violence type racism; the softer, paternalistic kind is much harder to deal with it. I think that distinguishing them makes sense; it’s important to deal with the problem that exists, not apply solutions for other problems to it.
“There is no such thing as benign paternalism. It’s all the same. Soft voice, loud voice, there’s always the big stick. It’s about power and control – certainly not about “love”.”
There definitely are different kinds of racism. I think it’s important to be clear on exactly what problem we’re dealing with, to target the solution to the problem.”
“Re your last point, this is a circular argument that has arrived at exactly the point I was making above; i.e. the constant ‘adaptations’ of the movement highlight the need for concrete proof.”
Great, but if they aren’t doing anything illegal, knocking yourself out proving it won’t help.
Well said, Diana. Anyway – none of us want a family to have to come forward after a negative experience in a Steiner school to provide that ‘concrete proof’. Any family will want to protect their child, and the consequences of exposing a child to the scrutiny of the media (isn’t that what you mean, Sally?) should be taken seriously. Many parents post their experiences anonymously and then want to move on, and they have a right to their anonymity and their privacy.
If a parent chooses to pursue an individual case that is their prerogative, and for very good reasons we may not know that they’ve done so. I know that there have been concerns expressed to the DfE, although having agreed to fund a couple of these schools already it would be a problem for Michael Gove to admit he shouldn’t have done so. That isn’t going to happen. It’s much easier for the DfE to take the Steiner movement (and individual proposers) at their word, and for the Steiner movement to chance their luck and hope they get away with it, even though they’re aware that their own teachers may be the problem. It’s a happy marriage politically, at least until the curtain goes up and all those skeletons fall out of the cupboard.
Were I a parent in a Steiner school now with a serious concern about that education system I would expect to be ignored by the Secretary of State for Education, but at least I’d be confident that nearly everyone else is being ignored too.
Here by the way is the case brought in 2002 by Waldorf teacher Charmaine Paulson against the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America and the Rudolf Steiner School of New York:
See particularly from point 27:
‘As part of their teacher training, each of the aforesaid College of Teachers at the NY Rudolf Steiner School learned a principal tenant of Steiner’s racial evolution theory followed by Defendants is that people of color can’t develop on their own and must be educated by whites.’
Diana and Pete will know the case better than I do.
If we’d known any of this when we were part of a Steiner initiative we would have removed our children and our support. We would not have needed a family to sacrifice their privacy and the potential well-being of their child to give us a reason.
“I’d be really interested to see the records of the attempts you mention to bring such matters to ECHR. Are you saying that you personally have taken the Steiner issue there? Can you share that info in detail please? Why weren’t they interested? What kind of disinterest was it?”
I’m sorry not to have replied earlier but, when checking my website for dates of when I published two pieces linked to issues for which I attempted to get help from the EHRC, I noticed my site had been ‘hacked’ by an auto-linker and hundreds of spurious hyper-links had been added; making the work unreadable. I’ve just spent 5 hours sorting it.
To answer your questions: no, I don’t have records but I’ll describe my experience in this area – assuming you’re genuinely interested (You may or may not be aware that the tone of your question almost sounds like ‘I don’t believe you’ – I’m not saying that is what you’re thinking but it’s certainly a style problem).
So, just to get the record straight and perhaps to persuade you that I know what I’m talking about I’ll give you a potted history of my experience and work in this area and some details concerning my more recent approaches to the EHRC.
In 1964, aged 8, I was in the top 3 of my class but had a serious and painful illness. I was not believed and thus my illness went undiagnosed for over 30 years. My school teachers and my parents decided that I was from an ‘easily excitable race’ so I was doped up with ‘phenobarb’ till I was 13 and fell to the bottom of the class. This was the action of people who supposedly loved me but were institutionally racists. Later, my contemporaries at school (an arty, progressive school that was anti-racist in its policies) chased me along the river and shot me through the ear. You can read all about it in ‘Blood in The River’ at
At Art School in the 1970s there were only 2 non-white people (this was in S.W. London!) in my year and both of us were told we had ‘chips on our shoulders’ if we were critical of any of the racist cultural references in the work we were studying or made by the tutors – while other students were congratulated for being so aware if they made similar observations.
In the 1970s and early 1980s in the advertising industry I was, unbeknown to me at the time, paid about ½ the rate of my all-white colleagues and was managed by a younger man who I had trained and taught.
In the 1980s as a fully qualified mechanic, fabricator and welder I was a ‘gofer’ or ‘dogsbody’ for a race team and, when they found I was not Italian, I was bullied into leaving – I went to a tribunal and won easily – but naturally did not return to the firm.
As a mature science student in the late 1980s I was the only non-white student on my course (in North London) and because (again) I questioned some of the racist and imperialist theories put forward as ‘development theory’ (concerning the ‘third world development’ modules I had added to my energy physics courses) I was told by the course leader (not by the tutor – who was excellent) I would be thrown of the course prior to graduation (I was almost a ‘straight A’ student) for having the wrong ‘academic attitude’ so I decided to have all my work re-marked by outside assessors and gained a First Class Honours with a fully funded Doctorate option – later withdrawn by the same tutor who threatened me earlier – though I had refused it anyway.
In the 1990s; from 1991 to 1998 I was very active as a Union rep for Unison and an active member of the Watford Black Employees Support Group (WBESG). It was there I learned for the first time that my experiences were very, very common and largely hidden from view. The reason being that ‘non-white’ people were then, and still often are, assumed to be ‘excitable’ and ‘prone to exaggeration’ and ‘have a chip’. Or we are ‘playing the race card’. All of the members of the WBESG had had similar experiences; many much, much worse than mine. Indeed, a supportive local businessman who had run our local corner shop was attacked by racist thugs and killed with a shotgun. The following year a local Oxfam shop was firebombed for ‘feeding niggers’. It was thought a NF gang was responsible but no one was arrested or charged for either offence.
We even had our share of racists within the WBESG who thought only certain types of non-whites were acceptable. For a year I was forced out of the group on the basis that with my ‘posh’ voice I could not have experienced anything bad. But I was invited back to chair the group for 2 years and briefly for a third year. It was at the WBESG that I started to understand some of the law involved and gave evidence several times. Most ‘famously’ in connection with the ‘Watford Bans Christmas’ racist media smear and the attempt to sack some non-white staff. We won that easily but the staff involved, who were found to be totally innocent of any such charge were then charged with secondary disciplinary offenses. We won again but by that time we had had enough and left.
From 1998 to 2000 I was driven from my home town in Devon and from my family home but that is still so raw, I can’t write about it.
As a lone labourer and woodlands worker in the early 2000s I was variously monkey chanted, run off the road by a truck, surrounded by men with shotguns and dogs who shot all around me over my head, was told a contractor might not work for me because I wasn’t white and experienced numerous other ‘minor’ issues.
More recently in 2008, following mental health issues, business bankruptcy and homelessness (a common route for many of us who just get worn out by the constant ‘fight’) I had tried to get involved with a local song competition for therapeutic reasons. In short, I discovered that the whole competition was linked to a racist ‘Devon Flag’ campaign.
I phoned the EHRC (then under a different name I think) and they told me to write it all down and contact my local REC in Exeter. Details are to be found in ‘New Flags of Xenophobia’ at:
The REC were worse than useless and at one point re-directed me back to the EHRC.
In 2010, in another attempt to become involved with the local community via an environmental group called Buck the Trend, I was prompted to contact the EHRC again and they again directed me to the Devon REC – needless to say I did not get a reply from them and did not bother to record dates and times of the telephone calls.
I wrote up that encounter (concerning Biodynamics) at:
So when I say that ‘evidence’ or ‘proof’ is not the issue, I have nearly half a century of direct and visceral experience to draw upon. I hope this long-winded reply is helpful – it’s taken a couple of hours to write because it’s not an easy to have to ‘re-live’ these experiences and I also wanted to make sure I had the order of things roughly correct.
Correction, ‘Buck The Trend’ was 2009.
Nick, So sorry to have missed this. Also, that will teach me to post a comment when I’m supposed to be working 🙂
Please discount my further comment below about my questions to you. I admit I was beginning to wonder whether you’d come back but reading what you’ve written it’s obvious how hard it is to concentrate on and relive details of such a harrowing story.
Of course I believe you and I apologise if my tone appears harsh. It’s just that this matter raised here is very dangerous, and yet people appear to be saying that it’s all perfectly legal to be telling children that their blood is inferior to white children, and it makes me mad. WTF?
I really can’t believe that’s true and I’m shocked that people aren’t citing test cases in dismissing the possibility of pursuing such racists.
I’ll read all your links, thanks and apologies again.
This is starting to seem a bit familiar.
Well, why don’t *you* cite the test cases then, if you know so much about it? I’m afraid you’ll find that at least in the US – I do not claim to know who people should sue, in other countries – it isn’t illegal to be a racist. Here we have a very firm tradition of free speech, and very nasty stuff is indeed protected. And private schools do indeed have vast latitude to determine the content of what they teach. Elsewhere laws against racist content are stricter.
Or if you have successfully sued a Steiner school or pursued any similar strategy perhaps you’ll post the story here now. If you’ve done it right you’ll want to share it with the rest of us, unless your main point is that the rest of us are doing it wrong.
I don’t know of any test cases and that’s not really the point as this is your fight, not mine. Nor have I sued a Steiner school. If I had, I sure would be bringing it to your attention! Neither am I saying that it’s illegal to be a racist. What I am questioning is the legality of teaching racist ideology in schools. I can’t believe that in 2013 it can be legal to do that. Don’t you think that’s outrageous?
However, if you’re right, and it isn’t illegal, however disgusting that may be, then the Steiner schools aren’t breaking the law.
So until people focus their energies on making it illegal to teach racist ideology in schools – any schools – I guess you can only talk really, because if it’s not illegal, then you can’t really stop them doing it.
“I don’t know of any test cases and that’s not really the point as this is your fight, not mine.”
Oh I see! Your ideas are all about things other people should do, not you. Thanks for clarifying.
“Nor have I sued a Steiner school. If I had, I sure would be bringing it to your attention!”
Okay, just checking. Other people should sue Steiner schools – not you.
“Neither am I saying that it’s illegal to be a racist. What I am questioning is the legality of teaching racist ideology in schools. I can’t believe that in 2013 it can be legal to do that. Don’t you think that’s outrageous?”
Essentially yes, though there are a few other wrinkles to it. And exactly what the solution is, to me is not as clear as it is to you. I hate racism, but I also believe in free speech. I like the old saying that the solution to speech one disagrees with is usually “more speech.” Legal solutions are very often a blunt instrument in complex situations. For one thing, exactly what is “racism” is often a point of deep disagreements, and outlawing what other people say or think is always dicey. So apparently we have some profound and sincere differences of opinion about how change is or should be wrought. I understand they are meaningless to you.
“However, if you’re right, and it isn’t illegal, however disgusting that may be, then the Steiner schools aren’t breaking the law.
So until people focus their energies on making it illegal to teach racist ideology in schools – any schools – I guess you can only talk really, because if it’s not illegal, then you can’t really stop them doing it.”
I understand that you are making the point that people here are “only talking” and you have contempt for that.
Fantastic piece and some great comments –
Absolute classic, a Steiner rep comes on very friendly and answers bugger all !
Thanks to Andy for another wonderfully incisive piece. I agree with Diana’s reply to Sally about being able to pin down the way Steiner’s beliefs about race can seep into the classroom. One problem is the way Steiner teachers are trained; it seems to be as much a training in the teacher’s personal path of spiritual development as the children. It appears that the teachers are trained to take all that Steiner said as undeniable “truths”, so “Steiner said” is apparently the way so many things are resolved.
So when Rene Querido, (prominent Steiner teacher trainer and author) invites teachers to consider a child’s “temperament” race and ethnic background to understand a child, it isn’t seen as strange; it helps the teacher “understand” which “spiritual stream” the child has come from, and understand the child’s “previous incarnations”. Steiner told teachers to use a child’s outward physical appearance as a guide in their education.
So who is to know which teachers are using which of Steiner’s proclamations as a guide?
Read Maimuma’s posts here,
or Lolapoppins, who was told by a steiner teacher that her son “was a ‘black soul’ put on earth in the incarnation of a blonde haired, blue eyed boy for the purpose of spiritual deception. That I was dark as I had committed evil in a previous life and that evil was living on through my child who was born in order to deceive.”
(this thread has since been deleted from mumsnet…..)
I posted this before, but I think it’s significant since it’s a current Steiner school’s photo
Actually, in my view the biggest Steiner education problem is their deception; Melanie and Diana said it better, people like Joe have no idea what’s really involved; in my view he’s being used.
The “racism problem” is so subtle; the black girl is the witch, the blonde girl is the princess, the quirky girl is the oxen….any other school it would be a huge political incorrectness, in Steiner it could be a spiritual observation to help future incarnation or something…..
I’ve prepared a short document that will go onto our website, covering some ground relating to Anthroposophy, education and faith – the text is below.
There’s a point running through this thread that I’d like to pick up. Various people have refused to believe that I, or the others in our steering group, have any real understanding of Steiner education, and that we are acting as ‘useful idiots’ for the shadowy, sinister, bearded Anthroposophists who seem to occupy your imaginations. For the record, I have been a parent/step-parent of children at Steiner schools for over a decade; my partner attended a Steiner school and her parents helped to set one up. I am now on a steering group with several experienced Steiner teachers and we have had input from people who have been involved in Steiner education for decades. The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, who hold the trademark for the names ‘Steiner’ and ‘Waldorf’ in education, have been involved in the preparation of our bid and are fully aware and supportive of our curriculum, policies and general stance.
I would say that frankly, we’re dealing with the reality of Steiner education and many here are dealing in fantasies. Steiner Academies, as the state funded Steiner schools are known, have been approved after an exhaustive process in which the Department for Education pick over every aspect of the ethos, curriculum and policies for each school. They are now closely monitored by DfE and Ofsted. How could that be, if there is a racist impulse behind Steiner education? I’ll suggest an answer: there is no deep-seated racism in Steiner education. There’s a couple of anecdotes about one or two lessons in which one or two teachers regurgitated a piece of Steiner’s writing without giving it any thought. That’s it: no wave of complaints from parents, no official investigations, no written evidence, nothing. That doesn’t sound like systemic racism to me.
I don’t expect to make any converts here. But I do agree with you all on one thing, which is that new schools have a duty to be open. That’s why we intend to have a community forum as well as a governing body; the community forum will consist of people from outside the school including businesses, other schools and colleges and so on. They will have access to the curriculum and content of lessons and will act as a sounding board to keep our school open and connected to the broader community. We will also have a representative from Bristol City Council on our board of governors, alongside parents and others.
We intend to run an open, accountable and efficient school. We’re getting out and talking to parents about our plans and we’re meeting with huge enthusiasm. Like I say, I don’t expect to make any converts here but I’m glad to say that we have a lot of support across our city.
Joe Evans, for the Steiner Academy Bristol group.
Anthoposphy and Education
We believe in the value of Steiner education because we have seen how it works in practice. We have seen how it can help children to achieve their potential as active, independent-minded and creative adults, and it is for this reason that our school will be based on the Steiner tradition.
Rudolf Steiner was a philosopher and a mystic. He saw his work as forming a coherent philosophy, which he called Anthroposophy. Steiner saw all aspects of life as being rooted in mystical truths, and the practical ideas that he put forward were based on Anthroposophy, his own spiritual philosophy.
We recognise the importance that spirituality and religion have for many people; however, we believe that they are matters of private belief. We will therefore neither promote nor denigrate any particular religious or spiritual beliefs. Our school will uphold the right of all individuals to hold their own beliefs and values, remaining neutral and inclusive on all matters of religion and spirituality.
Because of this, we will neither teach nor promote Anthroposophy. Individual staff and parents are free to come to their own interpretations of the philosophy that Steiner saw as the basis for his ideas, accepting or rejecting the spiritual elements according to their own private beliefs. We are committed to the practice of Steiner education, but this can be approached from many different viewpoints; this diversity can only enhance the vitality of our school.
Within Steiner education teachers and parents have always formed their own interpretations of Anthroposophy. Steiner himself insisted that his ideas should be tested and disputed rather than being simply accepted and this critical spirit has allowed Steiner education to evolve to meet contemporary needs. We will be part of this ongoing evolution, open to ideas from other educational traditions if they help us to deliver our vision of an excellent education within a creative, happy school.
The evolving nature of Steiner education has meant that interpretations of Steiner’s ideas have changed over time. In particular, some of Steiner’s Anthroposophical writing relates to race and ethnicity. His ideas on race reflect the racism of the time and place in which he lived, and have been rejected within Steiner education. Instead, Steiner schools have focussed on his ideas of the unity of humanity and the value of the individual, above any categories of race, gender or nationality. Our school will share these values, building on Steiner’s vision of a common humanity and rejecting all forms of prejudice.
We feel that the educational practices of Steiner schools stand on their own merits. For example, Steiner felt that children should not be taught to read and write until the age of seven. For him, this related to the stages by which the soul is incarnated into the body; before seven, the spirit is still adjusting to the material world. However, there are other reasons for delaying formal literacy teaching. It gives time for children to develop imagination, social skills, oral literacy and fine motor skills including pen control, laying the groundwork for later learning; it also younger children to learn from play and freely express themselves in an unpressured environment. As may be, successive studies have suggested that a later start in reading and writing has no negative effect on literacy later on (eg. Suggate, Schaughency, Reese, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 2013). This is recognised in the mainstream educational policy of some European countries.
Steiner education works. It is a tried and tested system that has evolved over a hundred years to meet the needs of children in many different cultures around the world. Our school will be part of the ongoing global development of Steiner education, valuing its roots in Steiner’s work but moving forwards without dogma, in a spirit of love, curiosity and freedom.
@Joe Evans: It’s good that you have now clarified your relationship to the SWSF and to existing Waldorf schools. What you seem to be saying is that your new school will implement all of the rules of WS educations as mandated by the SWSF. Although these rules are entirely founded on what most people would consider nonsense, i.e. Steiner’s “spiritual science”, you will stick to those rules but allow people to decide for themselves whether to believe the nonsense that they are based on. Is this a fair summary?
Joe, this is probably more detail than I’ve seen on any other Steiner school web site. This is encouraging, as far as it goes.
“we will neither teach nor promote Anthroposophy”
This is a stock phrase that is used across Steiner schools in the UK, I’m assuming on the advice of the SWSF. It’s fairly common for these same schools to run study groups for interested parents where Steiner’s most significant works are discussed: “The Study of Man”, “Occult Science” etc. I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with this, but it looks suspicious when at the same time you say that you do not teach nor promote Anthroposophy. Does the current Bristol Steiner school run such groups? Will the new free school?
More subtly and importantly, Joe, your description doesn’t make clear the relevance of the intense training in Anthroposophy that is required of a Steiner teacher and how this will influence the ethos and curriculum of the school. You talk about a diversity in understanding of Anthroposophy and its practical implications. This is inevitable of course and it’s good that you recognise it. As you know, one of the requirements of SWSF membership is that the school demonstrate that “an Anthroposophical impulse lies at the heart of planning”. In practice, what this appears to mean for other schools is that a senior management role – the principal or chair of the college of teachers – has the same understanding of Anthroposophy as the SWSF management. If Anthroposophy lies at heart of everything the school does, yet you don’t promote it, how do you square this circle? This is the apparent contradiction that your explanation needs to make clearer.
Joe – before citing research, always ask yourself if a lead researcher is an anthroposophist. He is – here discussed by Simon Webb:
Steiner children often don’t learn to read even at 7. Or 8. Or 9 – but I bet you don’t mention this alarming fact.
‘Because of this, we will neither teach nor promote Anthroposophy.’
I wouldn’t buy a used car from you, Joe Evans. A mile up the road it would turn into a pumpkin.
‘We recognise the importance that spirituality and religion have for many people; however, we believe that they are matters of private belief. We will therefore neither promote nor denigrate any particular religious or spiritual beliefs. Our school will uphold the right of all individuals to hold their own beliefs and values, remaining neutral and inclusive on all matters of religion and spirituality.
Because of this, we will neither teach nor promote Anthroposophy. Individual staff and parents are free to come to their own interpretations of the philosophy that Steiner saw as the basis for his ideas, accepting or rejecting the spiritual elements according to their own private beliefs. We are committed to the practice of Steiner education, but this can be approached from many different viewpoints; this diversity can only enhance the vitality of our school.’
From what non-anthroposophical viewpoints can it be approched?
And from what you’re saying here I get the impression that you’re envisioning a Steiner school devoid of commitment to anthroposophy. Will the pedagogy not be based upon anthroposophy? How on earth is this supposed to be interpreted? And how is this somehow compatible with the ideals of the SWSF and the Steiner movement as a whole? It can’t be news to you that anthroposophy is the basis of the pedagogy itself, and not a matter of personal and private confession for the individual teacher (if it were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all). Anthroposophy in Steiner schools is a professional thing. Not (only) a matter of personal belief, even if it is this (too).
This, by the way (sorry to submit two replies, I realize my earlier reply was not really complete):
‘I would say that frankly, we’re dealing with the reality of Steiner education and many here are dealing in fantasies.’
Is absolutely preposterous. I’ve dealt with the reality of Steiner education (for 9 years in practice, and spent several years looking into it in theory). As have many of those responding to this thread.
From the document:
‘Steiner education works. It is a tried and tested system that has evolved over a hundred years to meet the needs of children in many different cultures around the world.’
And you know this — how? I seem to remember your school using an Australian study to prove how outstanding Steiner education is. When its flaws were pointed out — what happened? Have you dug up some better studies? Do you have any ideas as to whether it might be that Steiner schools aren’t failing more than they are because in most countries they have been private schools which only affluent parents could afford? (Parents who can also afford to pay for their mistakes.)
I can’t help but make this observation (again, I’ve made it before) — it seems that waldorf education proponents are those who really do have a problem with anthroposophy. Most other people would be quite content if you were 1) just open about it and 2) didn’t count on others to pay for your beliefs without very good reason. Why is anthroposophy so embarrassing that you have to distance yourself from it? Why is it so embarrassing that you can’t admit that it is the basis of the pedagogy and not merely a matter of a teacher’s personal belief? Why all those contorted ways to get around the basic facts and avoiding to speak clearly about them? An anthroposophist teaching according to mainstream pedagogical ideas in a regular school is simply not a problem (in itself) — so why do you think we’re discussing anthroposophy in Steiner schools at all? Because it actually matters to the method and to how the school is run!
Will your school have compulsory eurythmy Joe? And will the teachers use “temperaments” to classify the children? Will there be detailed written records of thursday staff meetings and the teacher’s “child study” meetings?
“For the record, I have been a parent/step-parent of children at Steiner schools for over a decade; my partner attended a Steiner school and her parents helped to set one up.”
Snicker… Been there done that Joe. You’ll make a great Waldorf Critic in a few years.
“There’s a couple of anecdotes about one or two lessons in which one or two teachers regurgitated a piece of Steiner’s writing without giving it any thought. That’s it: no wave of complaints from parents, no official investigations, no written evidence, nothing. That doesn’t sound like systemic racism to me.”
When the school APPROVES THE LESSON? And is a WALDORF TEACHER TRAINING CENTER? Yeah, no big deal Joe.
Funny, when I search my blog for parent reviews that refer to racists and racismm in their own Waldorf schools, it seems like more than one or two.
Just one or two nutty parents causing all the fuss, right? ALL Anthroposophists are racists Joe. Racism is at the very core of Anthroposophy. You are just demonstrating to everyone here that you just don’t “get it” yet. Someday, perhaps, you will.
…from a former Waldorf School starter… 😉
Maybe it’s good time to link to Peter Staudenmaier’s recent document about how Waldorf schools went out of their way to align themselves with the Nazis in pre-WWII Germany.
Waldorf representatives will say and do absolutely anything they think parents want to hear… as long as they can have your children for their own purposes.
Yes – Peter Staudenmaier’s updated ‘Education for the National Community? Waldorf Schools in the Third Reich’ is fascinating, and well worth reading if you do want to understand the history of this movement. I encourage prospective or current Steiner parents to read it.
Joe Evans states that there have been no complaints to the DfE. That simply isn’t true. He tells himself:
‘There’s a couple of anecdotes about one or two lessons in which one or two teachers regurgitated a piece of Steiner’s writing without giving it any thought…’ and that there’s nothing more.
This should cause real concern, when there’s so much invested in maintaining the pure face of Steiner ed. It’s really shameful.
It’s not clear why this dark period of history is supposed to be relevant to Waldorf today but for those interested there’s a fairer, more balanced and comprehensive account of Waldorf during the Nazi period by Karen Priestman here: Illusion of Coexistence: The Waldorf Schools in the Third Reich, 1933–1941, http://scholars.wlu.ca/etd/1080/ .
yes, Peter Staudenmaier discusses Priestman’s dissertation here:
‘Along with Ida Oberman’s 2008 book The Waldorf Movement in Education from European Cradle to American Crucible, this is the best study available in English from a perspective sympathetic to Waldorf. Readers interested in anthroposophy during the Nazi era can learn much from it.’
If it’s still not clear to Waldorf supporters (like yourself) why ‘this dark period of history is supposed to be relevant to Waldorf today’, it suggests even more urgent reasons for Waldorf supporters (and parents even considering these schools) to understand that history.
I did ask about this period when I was involved myself, because it didn’t escape me that there must have been something to tell. I was lied to (of course it wasn’t the only thing they lied about). I have to say it matters to me that they felt the need to do so.
On Alicia’s blog you said that you would not to speak to me (after blocking me on Twitter), yet here you are…
Likewise, Karen Priestman has assessed Peter Staudenmaier’s contribution, noting that he is a ‘staunch anti-anthroposophist’. I’ve read both works – have you?
“If it’s still not clear to Waldorf supporters (like yourself) why ‘this dark period of history is supposed to be relevant to Waldorf today’, it suggests even more urgent reasons for Waldorf supporters (and parents even considering these schools) to understand that history.”
It does? Can you tell us why?
Ted – yes, here I am. Already here.
Well done for reading both works, although if you still can’t work out why they’re worth reading I’m quite surprised. It’s not for me to waste time explaining the blindingly obvious.
This is a response to Melanie’s post of January 23, 2013 at 5:46 pm; seems like the nesting level’s maxed out.
Sounds like you haven’t read both, and don’t intend to, which means that you only have a perspective from one, biased side of the argument. It maybe that that suits you.
“It’s not for me to waste time explaining the blindingly obvious.”
No one’s ever explained it so it’s unlikely to be ‘blindingly obvious’ (it certainly isn’t to me). Maybe you’re fooling yourself that it is?
Ted – dissertations are very long. Peter’s article, which Pete links to, is a fascinating and accessible read. I’m not suggesting parents read his whole dissertation (although it will be available in book form soon). If readers of this blog want to read both accounts featured here they are at liberty to do so – indeed Peter Staudenmaier encourages others to read Priestman’s account. I don’t agree with Priestman if she does suggest (somewhat unprofessionally) that PS is ‘anti-anthroposophy’. But I do understand that many anthroposophists cannot bear him, or any other historian engaged in researching anthroposophy who is not ‘pro-Waldorf’. Luckily, others do appreciate his work.
‘No one’s ever explained it so it’s unlikely to be ‘blindingly obvious’ (it certainly isn’t to me).’ Oh, I think it is obvious, Ted, or you wouldn’t be here.
“But I do understand that many anthroposophists cannot bear him, or any other historian engaged in researching anthroposophy who is not ‘pro-Waldorf’. Luckily, others do appreciate his work.”
It’s not so much that people ‘cannot bear him’ as that when they read him they realise that he’s biased, and then look for the more balanced, objective perspective. And the people that ‘appreciate his work’ tend to appreciate that bias too, calling other perspectives ‘pro-Waldorf’.
“‘No one’s ever explained it so it’s unlikely to be ‘blindingly obvious’ (it certainly isn’t to me).’ Oh, I think it is obvious, Ted, or you wouldn’t be here.”
No, it really isn’t. But it’s ok if you don’t have an argument.
I wrote a post a while ago which explains why the history (and epistemology) of this movement is worth examining. http://www.dcscience.net/?p=3853
I’m so sorry we didn’t have the chance to meet in the comments.
The only references I can find in your article to this topic (but the article is quite long and I may have missed something) are generalities similar to your : “a knowledge of the history of the anthroposophical movement is essential if we are to make any sense of the difficulties the schools face today”, which just re-states your assertion. It doesn’t answer the question: the Nazi period was, as I’ve said, a dark one for history but why is this period of relevance to Waldorf today? I would have thought that if you had an argument you ought be able to state it.
This is like the play by Ionesco where all the anthroposophists turn into rhinoceroses. It is of course virtually impossible to reason with either. And a rhinoceros, by virtue of the thickness of his hide, always believes he has the last word.
The end arrives as expected, and wasn’t worth waiting for. Arguing with a person who claims to be able to use clear reason and critical thinking in their arguments but understands neither, as shown by your performance here, is a waste of time. Making statements about being ‘unable to reason with anthroposophists’ or ‘the thickness of their hide’ is a resort to the genetic fallacy, something done by people without an argument.
A couple more points that I should have mentioned. Firstly re vaccines, our school will offer the HPV vaccination on site, in line with most secondary schools.
Secondly re parental choice, I think parents are very well informed about Steiner education, on the whole – that’s the great thing about the internet. The people we speak to at consultation events seem to have read both the pro and anti-Steiner sites and we’ve had lots of discussions at events about Anthroposophy, racism, mysticism and so on. Each consultation event has resulted in a big spike in sign-ups, so we can only assume that people are happy what they’ve heard.
Anyway, we’ll be adding information to the website as we go, especially if our bid is approved, so you can keep in touch with the project as it develops.
Joe Evans, Steiner Academy Bristol steering group.
‘Each consultation event has resulted in a big spike in sign-ups, so we can only assume that people are happy what they’ve heard.’ – how many of these people come from existing Steiner schools? As with Frome (the Meadow School – it closed) Exeter (the existing school – it closed) and is there a Steiner school in Bristol already? How convenient. Forgive me if I find it difficult to believe that anything you say is entirely … true.
Joe, I’m delighted that The Bristol Steiner Academy will not teach Anthroposophy or have formal or informal connections to Anthroposophy so that means: No links to Triodos, Biodynamics, Eurythmy, The Christian Community, other Steiner Schools or Camphill Communities. Wonderful! Erm… then why call the school a ‘Steiner School?’ Why choose Steiner’s racist versions of banking, farming, dance, Christianity and care for people with learning disabilities? Oh, because Steiner’s version is more ‘spiritual’? So, according to you, a self-confessed racist is more spiritual than a non-racist? Give me a break. And as for the historical ‘defence’:
“His ideas on race reflect the racism of the time and place in which he lived, and have been rejected within Steiner education.”
Steiner himself must have known that people have been fighting racism for as long as recorded history has existed; racism is a useful tool for dictatorial regimes and Gurus and there’s no excuse. Clearly racism was rampant in Steiner’s era but that’s all the more reason to reject Steiner – it’s not an excuse for following him! Sorry Joe, but you’ve still not explained why (for example) you prefer Steiner’s racist spirituality to a non-racist spirituality. A non racist would never knowingly choose a racist ideology over a non racist version. Which aspects of Steiner-ism do you consider to be more important than combating racism?
Not that any rational conversation with believers in Steiner makes a shred of difference – they don’t believe in rational discourse and have contempt for rationality. A preference for mysticism means you can invent whatever you like as you go along and claim your opinion, view or policy is the work of a higher power. I think I’m wasting my time trying to fight these racist mystic crackpots but I keep doing it so that, perhaps, one less person will be crushed by the weight of assumed racial supremacy.
OK, the main question I’ve got is, where’s Nick’s evidence of going to the ECHR? That was very interesting, and I note that people on this thread are pretty scathing of Steiner people who don’t answer questions!
“We agree that the teacher’s statement was completely unacceptable. It was probably not “discrimination” in the legal sense, however. It just isn’t illegal to be racist, or even to teach kids racist things. Therefore I don’t think a legal solution to that particular problem is the wisest approach.”
Wasn’t it discrimination? Isn’t is illegal to teach racism to kids? I’m also doing a bit of research and it seems clear that laws do cover the teaching of racist doctrine in any non-historical manner. In the case of Pete’s quote above, it would be clearly legal to say that “Many people used to believe that black people were less evolved” or whatever – that’s education, but to actually be promoting that idea and calling it teaching – no of course that’s not legal. Of course it’s discrimination. Haven’t quite managed to ascertain exactly how many laws apply to it yet, but there will be more than one.
So we’re back to proving whether that happened or not. Clearly from what Pete says, there was no attempt to place this ‘information’ into a historical context so it clearly was discriminatory. It seems obvious that with that all elusive proof, such a situation would be actionable.
Thanks for the links Melanie, I’ve had a quick look but will read more carefully as time allows. Even my quick look, however, threw up the very same conflicts about proof, resulting in the mom who had accusations of racism saying – I’m paraphrasing – “we have the proof, call the journalists”.
There is also a Steiner teacher on there, continually asking for proof in a very arrogant manner and basically laughing at everyone because there wasn’t anything concrete.
You (Melanie) said, “none of us want a family to have to come forward after a negative experience in a Steiner school to provide that ‘concrete proof’. Any family will want to protect their child, and the consequences of exposing a child to the scrutiny of the media (isn’t that what you mean, Sally?) should be taken seriously.”
I’m not sure what connection you are making between making any sort of legal moves, and necessarily exposing your children to the media, especially since you also say “If a parent chooses to pursue an individual case that is their prerogative, and for very good reasons we may not know that they’ve done so.”
That sounds a bit contradictory to me. You also said:
“Many parents post their experiences anonymously and then want to move on, and they have a right to their anonymity and their privacy.”
Surely that’s relative as well. Say for instance that you knew for a fact that children were being sexually abused in a school. Would you still say that an individual parent’s “right” to just walk away and leave that going on is more important than their responsibility to do something about it? I’m sure that most people would at least want such knowledge to be shared, for the protection of other peoples’ children. So where do you draw the line?
Perhaps it comes down to how serious the effects are? I don’t know about you, but teaching racism is about as serious as it gets. That’s why I think the argument about ‘sacrifice’ etc., is a bit of a red herring. What I don’t understand is why?
It’s pretty easy to see that the suggestion of “less talk, more action”, has wound people up here, and, heck, I’m here talking too so I’ve obviously nothing against it per se and I’ve already agreed that talk is an important part of organising.
It’s just that I can’t see any evidence that it can solve the problem by itself. And some of the comments dismissing the potential of bringing actions to prove racial discrimination are a bit vague to say the least. eg. ‘racism isn’t illegal’, “this is a private school and in the US that means they can get away with teaching this stuff on “legal” grounds”. Private schools are not above laws on discrimination are they?
This argument is pretty much circular and has got very muddled indeed, for example, when Diana said:
“there are certain situations that are amenable to legal solutions. The fact that Steiner taught some racist things, isn’t one of them, IMO.”
Because firstly we weren’t talking about Steiner’s ideas on their own but about a contemporary adult using them as an excuse to deliberately advocate racial discrimination to children. Secondly, whether or not that could be actionable depends entirely on what law there is, not on anybody’s personal opinion.
The thing that’s bothering me is this, why would you downplay any possible actionable discrimination by a system you’re decrying and seemingly only on guess-work? In the real world, I mean. I just don’t get the combination of outrage together with a reticence to explore individual actions as a legitimate means to help achieve your aim of exposure.
“If we’d known any of this when we were part of a Steiner initiative we would have removed our children and our support. We would not have needed a family to sacrifice their privacy and the potential well-being of their child to give us a reason.”
That’s you, it doesn’t say what others would do. Of course it’s important to inform parents, but even they need facts because otherwise they could be persuaded by the ‘historical teaching’ argument. Facts are persuasive, and documented proof with all parties named, is usually in the real world enough to have a real effect. I’m totally in agreement with that.
But in view of Joe’s confident assertion that after all their talking, parents are obviously more, not less interested, it’s obviously not that hard to convince people at the moment. Anecdotes and stories may be worrying but they’re not conclusive. Without the embarrassing proof, many people are obviously falling for the ‘historical teaching’ line.
“It’s a happy marriage politically, at least until the curtain goes up and all those skeletons fall out of the cupboard.”
It’s how that’s going to happen that I find perplexing. What’s the plan here? It can’t be simply for a group of (I’m guessing mainly white) people to bring down an entire education movement on the basis of race without using legal process or having any actual proof, surely. That seems almost…. a very privileged expectation.
Sacrifice to fight discrimination is just a fact of life for those who live with discrimination. I don’t know of a world that changes simply by the weight of my opinion. You’re very lucky if you do.
Joe can assert anything he likes – we have no idea how many parents in Bristol are really interested, would take a risk on a Steiner school when it came to it (whole different matter). We don’t know what they’ve read or what they’re being told – we won’t know much unless the proposal progresses. There’s a need for extra school provision in Bristol (are you familiar with Bristol, by any chance?) and free schools will doubtless be created there. We should have every sympathy with parents who are seeking a school place for their child. But – from what I see on the web, there’s already opposition brewing to the Steiner bid. There is after all a Steiner school in Bristol already (I believe you’re aware of this) and it’s a known commodity to many. As in Frome, there will be local opposition. People who comment here and elsewhere don’t have a collective ‘plan’, what an odd thing to say. But Andy certainly has a lot of readers.
In most British Steiner schools as they exist now there is little diversity. The movement knows that this is a problem. This may help to explain why there are not lots of families coming forward with court cases to please those inclined to litigation and the sacrifice of other people’s children to ‘fight discrimination’. This situation may change though if Steiner Academies are created in cities like Bristol and Leeds. I hope that doesn’t happen, but the DfE is acting under political pressure. Even if there were a court case, they would say it was an individual school and had no bearing on any other. As Diana says, you can’t fight this one child at a time. Nor should you want to.
Raising awareness of the course materials, pedagogy and teacher training in the way Andy is doing may be less exciting, but it is having an impact.
Sally wrote: “Of course it’s discrimination. Haven’t quite managed to ascertain exactly how many laws apply to it yet, but there will be more than one.”
Be sure, when you check, to apply the “private school” filter, Sally. As you know, private schools can get away with a lot of ridiculous nonsense that seems illegal that publicly-funded schools can’t. For example, at the same school, a teacher routinely handed out one child’s prescription medication to several children to “calm them down”. The school told parents the pills were “gummy bears”. In the public school system, this teacher would find herself looking for work – instead, at Waldorf, she was being defended by the school.
‘it would be clearly legal to say that “Many people used to believe that black people were less evolved” or whatever – that’s education, but to actually be promoting that idea and calling it teaching – no of course that’s not legal. Of course it’s discrimination.’
I’ll be interested to hear what your research turns up. You’re mistaken that that’s discrimination. Discrimination and racism aren’t the same thing. In the US – where I live, so I don’t really know what the UK folks should do – discrimination of various kinds, e.g., racial discrimination, is definitely illegal. Racism isn’t.
‘So we’re back to proving whether that happened or not. Clearly from what Pete says, there was no attempt to place this ‘information’ into a historical context so it clearly was discriminatory. It seems obvious that with that all elusive proof, such a situation would be actionable.’
‘All that elusive proof’? So you’re suggesting Pete is lying, the same way Nick was lying?
You express puzzlement over Melanie’s statement:
‘If a parent chooses to pursue an individual case that is their prerogative, and for very good reasons we may not know that they’ve done so.’
‘That sounds a bit contradictory to me.’
Think of it this way: You don’t know everything that goes on, and you don’t always understand why other people do things. Other people aren’t you, and other families don’t all work the way your family works, and sometimes, the reasons for things other people do will not be clear to you. Isn’t that possible?
‘some of the comments dismissing the potential of bringing actions to prove racial discrimination are a bit vague to say the least. eg. ‘racism isn’t illegal’, “this is a private school and in the US that means they can get away with teaching this stuff on “legal” grounds”. Private schools are not above laws on discrimination are they?’
I understand that this is all “vague” to you; maybe you just need to realize you aren’t understanding what other people say. There is nothing vague about my statement that racism isn’t illegal. And again you’re mixing up racism and discrimination.
‘we weren’t talking about Steiner’s ideas on their own but about a contemporary adult using them as an excuse to deliberately advocate racial discrimination to children.’
No, there was nothing in the story about the teacher advocating racial discrimination to the children. What happened was bad enough, but it doesn’t help to misrepresent what happened.
‘Secondly, whether or not that could be actionable depends entirely on what law there is, not on anybody’s personal opinion.’
Right, so I’m sure you’ll be checking into the California statutes and giving Pete your legal opinion. You’re a lawyer I guess?
‘But in view of Joe’s confident assertion that after all their talking, parents are obviously more, not less interested,’
You’re taking a Steiner spokesperson’s word here literally.
“OK, the main question I’ve got is, where’s Nick’s evidence of going to the ECHR? That was very interesting, and I note that people on this thread are pretty scathing of Steiner people who don’t answer questions!”
I don’t have time right now to write a detailed reply to all your questions, Sally – I’ll try to come back later tonight – but I would say, for starters, this seems hostile. You appear to be saying you don’t believe Nick. What are you asking him to do exactly? He gave an accounting of the occasions when he contacted the EHRC. Did you want him to scan or copy emails here or something? Are you saying you won’t believe he really did this, otherwise? It seemed that some of the contact was by phone, as well. Do you think there is some reason he would lie about this or invent this? I don’t get what is going on here, exactly, but it has a “not good faith” feel to it – or at least quite aggressive, like people here should prove their bona fides to you? Who are you?
Regarding laws about what can be taught in the classroom, I don’t know where you’re located, Sally, but these laws will vary quite a bit by locale. In Europe, for instance, there is a lot tougher stance than in the US, against written materials that contain racist content. Pete’s kids attended a school in California.
‘It’s pretty easy to see that the suggestion of “less talk, more action”, has wound people up here,’
“Wound people up here”? What do you mean by this? How would you know what people here do? You seem to have an idea we’ve all given up on life and somehow decided we’d just hang out on Andy’s blog instead.
What are you doing about the problems you perceive in Steiner education? Could you give us an accounting of your own actions in this regard? Where are you located?
I’ve been doing this for more than a decade. At the Waldorf school my child attended, the racism I perceived was along the lines described by Cathy above – e.g., the pic in which, among a bunch of white girls and one black girl, the black girl is the witch. This is subtle, probably not “actionable.” I’m fairly sure no laws were broken. I would have absolutely nothing I could have sued anybody for at that school.
On the other hand, I’ve read a lot of Rudolf Steiner and participated in online debates attempting to publicize the racism in Steiner. I guess I do see a value in speaking out. Doesn’t impress everyone, of course.
Pete’s story about the “more evolved” blood of Europeans is a little more tangible in that some of the material was written down in a lesson book, but a lawsuit on the basis of that lesson would be a long shot.
“Pete’s story about the “more evolved” blood of Europeans is a little more tangible in that some of the material was written down in a lesson book, but a lawsuit on the basis of that lesson would be a long shot.”
Especially with such a smorgasbord of things I actually *can* successfully sue them for to choose from… why sue them over the racism thing? Better just to continue to make it public knowledge. It has cost them a lot more in enrollment than I could ever be awarded over this particular incident. The fact that they train teachers right on their campus hurts ALL of Waldorf. Every time someone comes on the internet and says Steiner’s racism is in the past… I can prove that it isn’t. It’s a big black eye for Waldorf – that will never heal. That’s really OK by me.
Diana. I’ve replied to Nick and apologised for not seeing his reply earlier. I’m not hostile, but I am impatient with what I see an any excusing of racism, which assuming that it isn’t actionable kind of is to me.
The thing that Pete described, and some of the things in Melanie’s link are abhorrent, disgusting, hateful. And yet every suggestion that they should be prosecuted is met with “oh I don’t think you can do that”, or “it’s not illegal” or “we don’t want people to have to do that”.
But it is illegal. Or if it isn’t, then why no campaign to change the law so that it is? I mean, Obama is ruling this country in which a teacher is allowed to talk to black children like that? Something wrong! I know that Pete’s example happened six years ago, but it must still be going on. It’s so wrong.
From my scant research so far, it appears that the Supreme Court have ruled that hateful race speech is not protected by the First Amendment. What Pete described certainly is hateful race speech!
So if it’s illegal, it should be pursued, and if it isn’t, then the lawmakers should be pursued to close that loophole. Would you agree it’s a loophole?
How will you get rid of this disgusting propaganda otherwise, because if it’s legal, then there’s no argument because the school isn’t legally doing anything wrong. So they convince people that it’s ‘historical teaching’ or something and just carry on. And that’s wrong.
I can apologise for missing Nick’s reply above, but not for hating racism and wanting to see action taken!
Speaking out is great, but if you’ve been doing it for ten years already and Steiner’s actually getting State funding in new countries….?
“What Pete described certainly is hateful race speech!”
By what standard Sally? This is the type of hysterical conclusion-jumping I would expect from the likes of someone like Sune. You’re not *him* are you?
It is certainly horrible that a teacher would teach that to children… but “hateful” – under the law? Really? You think there was some hate involved here (you must not understand Anthroposophy then) – and that it’s *that* cut and dried? If you want to convince me that I could take legal action on this, show me some precedent case where similar speech has been deemed “hateful” and successfully prosecuted in the USA. I suspect you haven’t done your homework, yet accuse others of not having done theirs.
You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about, and are attacking the wrong people.
If you have experience with legal or human rights situations in regard to Steiner, perhaps you’ll share it here. And if you don’t, or if it takes you a couple of days to write it up, why should we believe you? Perhaps we should suspect of you lying, as you suspected Nick?
For your information I also contacted the EHRC and got the same response as Nick and sorry to say ,no proof as they rebuffed me on the phone and told me to go to Ofsted.
Ofsted said,” We are not here to investigate schools.we are here to inspect them based on a framework of criteria.” In the letter John Gornall thanked me for the information and gave me a link to ‘Ofsted main inspection documents for inspectors ” then they told me to write to the DfE.
The DfE told me to write to Ofsted.
I wrote to Michael Gove in 2010,2012 and 2013. I took the DfE proof.
Because the SWSF on paper disowns Stener’s racism and says they won’t discriminate the organisations above can say that everything is covered. After all the BNP is a legal party and the The Alliance of European National Movement ( which includes the BNP ) are about to get funding for 400,000 Euros.
Does everyone understand that this group is racist and discriminatory -yes of course but in Europe it is legal to be that way.
I decided to write to the EASS today ( Equality Advisory Support Services who have taken over from the EHRC ) and see what they say. If you are interested I’ll keep you posted as they said they would answer me within 24 hours, don’t hold your breath though…
Hi again. I want to pick up a few points again. Firstly, on the key issue of racism, I can only reiterate that we absolutely reject Steiner’s ideas on race, which quite clearly reflect the dominate narrative of social and racial Darwinism of his era. I would personally have absolutely no part in any project which was in any way linked to a racist or discriminatory ideology. I’m fully aware of what Steiner wrote on race, but in my personal experience, and the much wider experience of the group I’m part of, none of us has ever come across any suggestion of institutional or personal racism within Steiner education. I’m not here as a spokesperson for the wider Steiner education movement, but I would say that I simply don’t recognise the picture being painted here of Steiner education; if it was true, there is absolutely no way my own children would be anywhere near a Steiner school and I would certainly have nothing to do with this current project.
The response on this blog to my statements on Steiner’s racial ideas has been to suggest that I am either an idiot or a liar. No-one commenting here has (to my knowledge) met any of our group, had any correspondence with us directly, or seen the details of our proposed curriculum and teaching practices. I’m very open to rational, skeptical, evidence-based criticism and discussion, but unevidenced ad hominem attacks don’t represent an especially high level of debate to my mind. They also don’t do your cause any favours. When I read through a debate and see one side resorting to personal abuse, I tend to assume that their arguments lack substance. I’m not alone in thinking that – I’ve spoken to several parents who have told me that they read through some of the anti-Steiner sites and were put off by the sheer venom directed at people.
‘we absolutely reject Steiner’s ideas on race, which quite clearly reflect the dominate narrative of social and racial Darwinism of his era. ‘
I don’t think you’ve understood Steiner’s race doctrines. His ideas do not simply or clearly ‘reflect the dominate narrative’. This should concern us.
You have a thin skin for someone who feels they have the right to acquire a great deal of public money. Seek public money, face public scrutiny. The comments here are mild. And you are quite simply ignoring the arguments, in fact when the heat is on (as it was on Alicia Hamberg’s blog and Glen Vowles’ blog) you run away. I am not reassured when you suggest your proposed school will move forward in a ‘spirit of love, curiosity and freedom.’ It’s cant – and you appear to be aiming for a religious experience.
Is ‘tone’ a part of your defence? I’ve seen a great deal of venom from the supporters of Steiner Waldorf education – threats of legal action aimed at ex-parents and teachers who decided to write about their experiences. I’ve read brilliant analysis by the movement’s critics, which even some anthroposophists would advise Bristol parents to read. The criticism is rational – but I think you’re asking for yet more exemptions. And no, I don’t believe that your school is a significant departure for Steiner ed. I think we have more of the same.
“No-one commenting here has (to my knowledge) met any of our group, had any correspondence with us directly, or seen the details of our proposed curriculum and teaching practices”
By jove I think he’s got it.
Our concern Joe is that people within the Steiner movement show no comprehension that Steiner was a racist, that a philosophy based on his ideas is inherently racist and any institution that espouses such as philosophy should be considred a racist institution – no matter how much they deny this. Without you acknowledgement of the problem, your words count for very little.
“I would personally have absolutely no part in any project which was in any way linked to a racist or discriminatory ideology.”
Joe, those of us who LATER found racism in Waldorf willingly participated in such a project. Good people get duped all the time. Waldorf is ABSOLUTELY linked to racist ideology… there is NO question of that. It’s FOUNDED on racist philosophy. The question on everyone’s mind here is whether YOU understand this.
“I’ve spoken to several parents who have told me that they read through some of the anti-Steiner sites and were put off by the sheer venom directed at people.”
Dude… STOP HARMING OUR CHILDREN. You might get a warmer response from critics.
@J Rowlands: “What you seem to be saying is that your new school will implement all of the rules of WS educations as mandated by the SWSF. Although these rules are entirely founded on what most people would consider nonsense, i.e. Steiner’s “spiritual science”, you will stick to those rules but allow people to decide for themselves whether to believe the nonsense that they are based on. Is this a fair summary?”
I wouldn’t phrase it quite like that, but in a way you’re not far off… How about:
Our school will be based on the system of education that has been developed in Steiner schools over the last hundred years. Steiner education has its roots in Steiner’s spiritual ideas, but interpretations of those ideas vary widely. Our school will therefore leave spiritual belief to private individuals and concentrate on practical education.
I should add that the SWSF don’t ‘mandate’ anything – they are more of a collective, their trustee body being formed of representatives from each UK Steiner school. So our school will be part of the management of the SWSF, rather than being managed by it, if you see what I mean.
I should also add that if you feel that Steiner’s work was irredeemable nonsense from which nothing good could ever spring, that’s fine – just don’t send your children to a Steiner school. Equally, if you feel our logic is incomprehensible in starting a Steiner school when we thoroughly reject some of his ideas, that’s ok by me as well. I’m here to set out what we’re trying to do as best I can, not to try to tell anyone else what to think.
Joe – I find your incomprehension of our concerns staggering.
“Steiner education has its roots in Steiner’s spiritual ideas, but interpretations of those ideas vary widely.”
Quite. We are asking you to be open with prospective parents what these spiritual ideas are and how, at all, your school interprets them. Which bit of this is hard to understand?
I also find it troubling that you say SWSF don’t mandate anything but your best responses to our concerns are to parrot stock SWSF phrases that we are so critical of.
“I should also add that if you feel that Steiner’s work was irredeemable nonsense from which nothing good could ever spring, that’s fine – just don’t send your children to a Steiner school.”
This is important.
How do you make sure parents are fully aware of these ideas so that they can make just such an informed choice? That is the central question. If parents find out after they have made their decision that Steiner’s work is batshit and unpleasant, don’t you think you will be in a whole load of bother?
Joe Evans, if “interpretations of those ideas vary widely” perhaps you can clarify where your proposed school will stand on the rules that WS mandates. You’ve already said that there will be no reading till 7 and no computers till 14, as well as compulsory eurythmy. So in those three respects you are an orthodox Steiner school by the book. What about painting? Compulsory copying of Steiner images? And music? At what age are diatonic scales and harmony permitted? Sheet music? My expertise is in this area so I should clarify that, while children can come out of a Steiner school with an ability to play music, they will never – ever – reach the highest levels of accomplishment. They start too late and their listening environment is too impoverished. You need to spell this out for prospective parents and for the taxpayers who are being asked to pay for this thing.
We are privileged to live at a time when we have unparalleled access to information and culture. Children at Steiner schools are denied access to these riches, because of what you call Steiner’s “spiritual philosophy” which is simply a spin on ignorant superstition. Our children and our society deserve and need better education. What is most shocking about the Steiner project is the incredibly impoverished ambition that the educators have for the children in their care – in terms of actual development and achievement, rather than “spiritual development” which is conveniently inaccessible to evaluation by us muggles.
@Mark H: “As you know, one of the requirements of SWSF membership is that the school demonstrate that “an Anthroposophical impulse lies at the heart of planning”. In practice, what this appears to mean for other schools is that a senior management role – the principal or chair of the college of teachers – has the same understanding of Anthroposophy as the SWSF management. If Anthroposophy lies at heart of everything the school does, yet you don’t promote it, how do you square this circle? This is the apparent contradiction that your explanation needs to make clearer.”
Yes – the agreed definition of a Steiner school includes the idea that “an Anthroposophical impulse lies at the heart of planning”. I suppose the problem is that given Steiner’s vast and inconsistent output, there are a lot of Anthroposophical impulses to choose from… How about this one:
““Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility — these three forces are the very nerve of education.” – Rudolf Steiner
That’s the kind of “Anthroposophical impulse” that our school is rooted in.
Re the SWSF, my experience of working with them is somewhat different to the image presented here. The SWSF consists of a trustee group, formed of representatives of each UK Steiner school, and paid staff members, who are managed by the trustees as in any charity. Within the trustee group there’s a huge range of opinions about anything and everything, so there isn’t really an ‘SWSF opinion’ as such. To generalise hugely, I would say that the staff are probably more concerned with the technical details of moving Steiner education forwards – engaging with DfE and Ofsted, looking at accreditation and how to build towards GCSEs within a Steiner curriculum and so on, whereas the trustees, being mostly reps from small private schools, are maybe more concerned with supporting one another, sharing resources and so on.
As for squaring the circle between running a school based on Anthroposophy yet not wanting to promote it, I suppose it comes down to your values and ethos. For our school, the heart of our ethos lies in mutual respect and understanding. We respect the views and beliefs of others; we want to teach children how to think for themselves and not what to think; we want a school in which diversity of belief and opinion is seen as a strength and not a weakness. If those are the values that you take from Anthroposophy, as we do, then it’s obvious that you are not going to want to force your own beliefs onto anyone else.
Joe – you are cherry picking Steiner. No school would deny that such an ethos was important. Such statements say nothing about how a Steiner school is different from any other school. It is what you do and why that matters, not cherry picked Steiner quotes to make everyone feel comfortable.
A cherry-picked quote is not an anthroposophical impulse. I wonder if Joe understands what waldorf steiner and anthroposophical organisations mean when they talk about an anthroposophical impulse. It’s certainly not about picking and choosing ideas or statements that seem appealing — usually because they’re so generally worded and unspecific that the reader can interpret them in anyway he or she most desirs. It certainly isn’t a bland statement or anything like that — an anthroposophical impulse carries *anthroposophy* into the world, in this case via a practical application of it (the steiner school). It is a responsibility, even, for anthroposophists, to carry the anthroposophical impulse.
(This is all very far from non-anthroposophists (like Joe?) choosing the quotes they like most and using them as mottos. That is fine to do, I suppose. But not the same thing.)
I agree that
“Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility — these three forces are the very nerve of education.”
is a perfectly valid and admirable aim; indeed I doubt there would be parents anywhere that would disagree but: such universal ‘motherhood and apple pie’ ideals are not unique to Steiner and exist quite independently; you don’t need to be a Steiner school to follow such ideals. So, if you take away all the ideals that are common and take away the some non-unique spiritual ideas (such as reincarnation or dance or art) what do you have left?
I’m delighted that you have once more restated your non-racist position but, as I keep asking, why choose Steiner’s racist reincarnation, racist gnomes, racist dance etc.. etc.. over non-Steiner non-racist versions? What do you value more, that is unique to Anthroposophy, than walking away from supporting a racist ideology? The point about institutional racism is that is gives legitimacy to racist actions and thoughts that subtly yet devastatingly affect the life chances of the groups targeted by the ideology in question. How, for example, might a non-white person know which organisations to trust? The ones with explicitly racist ideologies or the ones without?
If, as Andy has suggested, you are cherry picking all the bits you like; why not do so outside of the Steiner/Waldorf/Anthroposophic grouping? What exactly is it that draws you to the writings of a racist mystic rather than, say, a non-racist rationalist?
Institutional racism will not ‘go away’ simply by stating that you are not racist; one needs mechanisms in place. Over the past 40 years most organisations (that, unlike Steiner, do not have a written racist agenda) have embraced equality of opportunity and have started out from the position that a significant proportion of their staff and stakeholders will be racist – (there’s plenty of research in this area) – and over those 4 decades, organisations with the most complete set of remedial mechanisms have shown the best improvements. So at least non-white people know that they are welcome and that change is underway.
But it seems to me that the Waldorf-Steiner-Anthroposophic organisations of which you are a part have not embraced that process and many Steiner agents and representatives still deny that Steiner was racist and that there is racism within Anthroposophy.
How is the Steiner-Waldorf diversity monitoring set up? Has Steiner-Waldorf seen steady progress towards fair representation? How are the replacement (to the racist versions) concepts worded, which concepts have been modernised and by whom? As far as my very extensive internet searches over the past 4 years are concerned, there seem to be no answers to these questions. But the biggest mystery of all is the one I keep coming back to again and again, why choose to follow racist versions of ideas that are easily available elsewhere without the racism attached?
Joe, many thanks for the reply.
“Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility — these three forces are the very nerve of education.”
This is a noble statement, but how does it distinguish you from any other school? The following is perhaps more of a question for the SWSF, but if a mainstream school had this as its mission statement with some practical aspects borrowed from Steiner such as a late start to reading and limited exposure to media/IT, do you think it would qualify for SWSF membership? If not, why not?
You haven’t addressed my question on relevance of the content of Steiner teacher training courses to your schools pedagogy. This isn’t just restricted to Steiner’s ideas on child development, it’s full blown, hard core spiritual science. On the professional relevance of individual views on Anthroposophy, I can do no better than recommend Alicia’s recent article: http://zooey.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/not-merely-personal-beliefs/
On multi-culturalism in Steiner education, read Janni Nicol who was a founder of the Cambridge Steiner school and Early Years rep at the SWSF: http://www.waldorflibrary.org/images/stories/journal_articles/GW3410.pdf Nobody is claiming active discrimination. However this line: “Karmically we choose to be born into different races to have a specific environmental, cultural and racial experience.” is indicative of the ‘benign’ karmic racism that seems to be endemic in the movement.
One more post then I need to do some work.
Someone – Melanie? questioned our figures for demand. These were gathered according to DfE requirements, which are quite rigorous, and submitted as part of our application at the beginning of January. I think the figure is now just reaching 1000 supporters.
We obviously can’t know exactly how many people who have said that they would choose our school will actually go on to do so, but we already have something like five times the demand to fill our opening places. Of our existing supporters, something like 14% currently have a child at a Steiner school. However, as our admissions code will be ‘nearest first’, the great majority of parents of children at the existing Bristol Steiner School would not get places at our school, which will be on the other side of town.
On diversity – my children are currently at the Bristol Steiner School and it’s relatively diverse, for a private school on that side of town – there are black and Asian teachers and families. For what it’s worth, the most passionate advocate of Steiner education that I know is a Nigerian-British woman whose son is at a Steiner school. She has read Steiner’s work quite widely and sees no problem in taking the positive elements and rejecting the bad.
Our proposed site is in an extremely diverse part of Bristol. If our application is approved, we’ll be running consultation events in the area and I think we’ll run a public meeting / discussion on ‘Steiner education in a multi-cultural context’ or some such title, so that we can have a proper, open conversation with parents about our ethos and our plans; it would of course include discussion of the issues raised on this blog.
Finally, in response to someone ages ago – yes, Eurhythmy is part of the curriculum. I suppose it’s another example of our approach – it has spiritual value within Anthroposophical thought which you can believe in or not, to taste, but it’s also great for coordination, concentration, cooperation and so on. Personally I’d like to see it phase into contemporary dance for older pupils but that’s something we’ll sort out once we have a teacher in post.
No, we can’t possibly make teacher’s meetings public – there would be discussion of emotional and behavioural issues for individual pupils, as in any school, and from point of view of confidentiality and data protection I doubt that it would even be legal.
Yes, child studies – all teachers give careful thought to the character and needs of individual pupils from time to time, it’s part of teaching. A child study gives some structure to that. We’ll be developing guidance for teachers on this as part of our training and supervision of staff.
Joe: ‘I suppose it’s another example of our approach – it has spiritual value within Anthroposophical thought which you can believe in or not, to taste, but it’s also great for coordination, concentration, cooperation and so on.’
While, obviously, eurythmy is part and parcel of steiner education, I’m quite curious: do you know for a fact that it is ‘great for coordination, concentration and cooperation’? Are there any studies on this?
I remember my eurythmy lessons as kids running around, out of control, because neither the teacher nor the subject could appeal to them. Often they were behaving very badly. And the subject was very unpopular. Which is why I doubt it actually helped anyone’s coordination, concentration and cooperation — I’m more inclined to think it was unhelpful, at least to concentration and cooperation!
As far as I know, this is pretty much a standards situation for this steiner school subject. These are usually unpleasant lessons because the eurythmy teachers (I’m sure there might be exceptions) take the subject with such anthroposophical serenity (it is, after all, of huge importance) and it is so incomprehensible to children.
You write about child study:
‘Yes, child studies – all teachers give careful thought to the character and needs of individual pupils from time to time, it’s part of teaching. A child study gives some structure to that.’
You make this sound as the most natural thing in the world. And perhaps it is, up until the point when you begin to involve karma and speculations based on temperament and physical appearance, and so forth. Nobody objects to you giving ‘careful thought to the character and needs of individual pupils’. It’s what this procedure entails, in a steiner school, that you might need to explain to people.
Joe said: “Finally, in response to someone ages ago – yes, Eurhythmy is part of the curriculum. I suppose it’s another example of our approach – it has spiritual value within Anthroposophical thought which you can believe in or not, to taste, but it’s also great for coordination, concentration, cooperation and so on. Personally I’d like to see it phase into contemporary dance for older pupils but that’s something we’ll sort out once we have a teacher in post.”
I’m wondering if Joe knows the somewhat racist origins of Eurythmy? Eurythmy was in response to what Steiner saw as the imitation of “Negro” dances at the turn of the century. He saw dances like the Charleston and it reminded him of “savages” hopping around. Spearheaded by Marie Steiner, Eurythmy represented the opposing spiritual force to these types of dances. Rather than dancing to rhythmic drumming or even music, Eurythmy puts dance to words. Rather than hopping around wildly like savages, Eurythmists feet never leave the ground… they glide around in specific patterns. Rather than show excitement, emotion, happiness at the release provided by dancing, Eurythmy seeks to restrain emotion and be a solemn experience.
If there’s any question that Eurythmy embodies Anthroposophy, here’s Rudolf Steiner on the subject:
“I speak in all humility when I say that within the Anthroposophical Movement there is a firm conviction that a spiritual impulse of this kind must now, at the present time, enter once more into human evolution. And this spiritual impulse must perforce, among its other means of expression, embody itself in a new form of art. It will increasingly be realised that this particular form of art has been given to the world in Eurythmy.
It is the task of Anthroposophy to bring a greater depth, a wider vision and a more living spirit into the other forms of art. But the art of Eurythmy could only grow up out of the soul of Anthroposophy; could only receive its inspiration through a purely Anthroposophical conception.”
From Rudolf Steiner’s “Lecture on Eurythmy” August 26, 1923
You say that
“Eurhythmy is part of the curriculum. I suppose it’s another example of our approach – it has spiritual value within Anthroposophical thought which you can believe in or not, to taste, but it’s also great for coordination, concentration, cooperation and so on.”
I would whole-heartedly agree that dance, when taught by qualified dance instructors and tutors, is good for concentration, coordination and cooperation. Eurythmy is not unique in that regard; it is unique because it is very, very limiting compared to contemporary dance or ballet and is based on a racist assumption.
Again, please explain why you choose racist Anthroposophical dance over the wide spectrum of international dance cultures. Over the past 3 years, on numerous websites, I’ve been asking the same question concerning Anthroposophical versions of ordinary activities; why choose the racist versions? Thus far, not one Steiner supporter has answered this question directly and has simply stated that they oppose racism.
As Shaved Monkey has so eloquently put it, the shit sticks. So why? Did you not know about the racism for many years? It took me almost 20 years to be aware of it within Anthroposophy and many people don’t know about it. When did you know and what did you do about it?
Until Anthroposophists answer these basic questions, a great many non-white people will feel unwelcome in and around towns in which Steiner establishments are popular.
@Joe Evans… Steiner said this: “The teacher must be one who is true in the depths of his being. He must never compromise with untruth, for if he did so we should see how through many channels untruth would find its way into our teaching, especially in the way we present our subjects. Our teaching will only bear the stamp of truth if we are intently striving after truth in ourselves.” – Rudolf Steiner
Today, Waldorf/Steiner schools have become famous for their willingness to “bend” the truth (or put more simply – lie). How do you reconcile these dishonest schools with Steiner’s words above? Again, we aren’t talking about one or two isolated cases, we’re talking about every single Waldorf school being dishonest about their intent. Could you please explain how Waldorf teaching bears “the stamp of truth” today?
Without Anthroposophy at the heart of it a Steiner school wouldn’t be a Steiner school.
If Bristol Steiner school is going to do any of these things it is following Steiner’s curriculum and that curriculum is all about helping a child’s karma and reincarnation process :
Wet on wet painting
Holding off reading until age 7
An aversion to corners !
Black lines,hard edges being a no no
No computers till age 14
No CD’s recorded music
No text books
Copying from the board
Not questioning the teacher’s ideas
Having a teacher that is with the class till age 13 / 14
That teacher having to teach every subject
Listen to a lesson on how gnomes are real
Learning about myths,Romans,explorers etc and the right time for the child’s karma
Lets not forget knitting
Daily prayers and candle lighting
Hardly ever including contemporary writers let alone artists,musicians etc before age 14
Compulsory eurythmy classes -yes eurythmy may ALSO be good for co-ordination but as Joe says eurythmy ‘has spiritual value within Anthroposophical thought which you can believe in or not’ that ‘spiritual value is that it is used to ‘right’ a child’s karma -how can I choose to believe in that or not if it’s not clearly written in the prospectus ???? The way you just described it is EXACTLY as the prospectus do-spiritual thought sounds sort of wooly and nice and as I said before says bugger all !
Child studies are about character and needs in so much as the teachers note the head shape ,nose shape,skin colour .walk etc and work out how to help the child’s soul development.They are often done without the parents knowledge.
• “[T]he purpose of [Waldorf] education is to help the individual fulfill his karma.” — Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 52.
• “[Waldorf] education is essentially grounded on the recognition of the child as a spiritual being, with a varying number of incarnations behind him, who is returning at birth into the physical world … Teachers too will know that it is their task to help the child to make use of his body, to help his soul-spiritual forces to find expression through it, rather than regarding it as their duty to cram him with information….” — Anthroposophist Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989), pp. 388-389.
• “Waldorf education is based upon the recognition that the four bodies of the human being [the physical, etheric, astral, and ego bodies] develop and mature at different times.” — Waldorf teacher Roberto Trostli, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING: What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents & Teachers (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), pp. 4-5.
• “The reason many [Steiner or Waldorf] schools exist is because of the Anthroposophy, period. It’s not because of the children. It’s because a group of Anthroposophists have it in their minds to promote Anthroposophy in the world … Educating children is secondary in these schools” — Former Waldorf teacher “Baandje”. [See “Ex-Teacher 7”-
Joe – it would be good if you could tick off from this list what elements you intend to include!
Joe Evans – you state:
‘For what it’s worth, the most passionate advocate of Steiner education that I know is a Nigerian-British woman whose son is at a Steiner school.’
If this mother is the MOST passionate advocate of Steiner education that you know, (and you must know quite a few) it would be useful to read anything she’s written on line or elsewhere. Most of us were Steiner parents too and were also positive – in fact the most passionate advocates can become the most passionate critics – something you might like to bear in mind.
‘She has read Steiner’s work quite widely and sees no problem in taking the positive elements and rejecting the bad.’
Does she accept though how Steiner teachers do not always perceive ‘the bad’ as bad, but as benign? That this was recognised by the SWSF, who acknowledged that some of their own teachers would be a problem? Or perhaps you don’t feel you can speak for her – which would in all honesty be a wiser approach.
‘Our proposed site is in an extremely diverse part of Bristol.’ This is ABSOLUTELY WHY you should not get funding for this school.
‘I think we’ll run a public meeting / discussion on ‘Steiner education in a multi-cultural context’
Yes, it would be a very good idea for people to read some Steiner, to understand the content of teacher training courses and to get to grips with benign, loving spiritual racism. Don’t forget to invite the media.
‘Child studies are about character and needs in so much as the teachers note the head shape, nose shape, skin colour, walk etc and work out how to help the child’s soul development. They are often done without the parents’ knowledge.’
It isn’t just about skin colour – classing children by temperaments or head shape or some other bonkers spiritual insight is a very bad idea. And yes, I have seen the distress it can cause. Why, when there are so many other educational ideas to choose from, do you promote this nonsense?
The answer, I suggest, is less about the education of children and more about the incomes and job prospects of promoters of the Steiner Waldorf schools movement.
No I’m not some man called Sune, I don’t know anything about Bristol. It seems as if any point of view not within group boundaries creates a conviction that you are a Steiner person! That is a fairly narrow and even dogmatic view which is exactly what you appear to be complaining about. I’m not totally surprised when Joe says it puts parents off examining the anti viewpoint.
I came on here in good faith, a passion for the subject of racism and a perfectly rational, logical and sensible idea to fight it using law (and if not possible to change law so it is). You’ve shocked me into doing more research into the law – but not changed my view about the necessity for evidence or process.
The arguments on here are both completely clear: Joe states the position that he’s not buying or doing the racist bits and the others (who all seem to buoy one another up as a policy) dismiss everything he says at which point he resorts to the “well don’t send your kids there” argument.
I think this is probably going to go on for some time…..Here’s a prediction.
Joe and others will open their schools in Bristol and elsewhere and the anti-camp will moan and accuse them. And that will be it.
If public money is going to lead to public scrutiny, then that’s a good thing. But to achieve that the anti-camp will in the end have to resort to the kinds of evidential process I’m talking about, because the Government has already endorsed Steiner, so what is here being referred to as scrutiny will soon be seen as harassment.
At that point we’ll be back to the discussion of evidence.
So if I can find anything useful I’ll come back and share it. This current circular argument is non productive in my view.
Thanks Nick for sharing your personal story and I wish you strength in your struggle for equality. I don’t think you’re going to find it here among the circles.
Melanie (who’s comments seem to get progressively more and more personal) said that Andy’s approach is having an effect.
Looking back at this blog, he started writing posts about Steiner a little less than a year ago – and now Steiner has begun to receive Federal money and loads more in the pipeline…..Some effect!
“I don’t know anything about Bristol.”
But you’re pretty sure somebody should be suing them … not you, of course, but somebody.
“So if I can find anything useful I’ll come back and share it.”
We’ll look forward to what you find.
Diana, your response to my “I don’t know anything about Bristol” was:
“But you’re pretty sure somebody should be suing them … not you, of course, but somebody.”
No, that’s not what I said at all.
In fact it’s the opposite of what I said. The school doesn’t even seem to exist yet – which is kind of why I suggested that trying to hold them to account, especially for attitudes and behaviours that you keep maintaining are completely legal, is a waste of time.
You guys certainly like to play fast and loose with the facts. I guess it helps to pass the time.
It seems more like you’re not really in control of either your facts or your own behavior. The whole discussion was out of whack, since you didn’t actually know what racism and discrimination are and had to have this explained to you, and it never seemed to have occurred to you that laws and cultural contexts are different in different countries, or even just that other people have other ideas about how to do things. You express contempt immediately for people who don’t agree with you instantly on everything. That, plus your inability to control your aggressive impulses toward people you don’t even know, like Nick, makes these discussions very unlikely to prove fruitful.
“I suggested that trying to hold them to account, especially for attitudes and behaviours that you keep maintaining are completely legal, is a waste of time.”
I completely disagree with that. Not everything that is legal is ethical; there’s an important distinction. You seem to be suggesting that if it isn’t illegal nobody should bother. Just because that’s the only idea YOU can think of, doesn’t limit the rest of us. Ultimately the law is a rather blunt instrument. It has its uses, but it doesn’t apply to every problem, in every time and place.
Sally – Are you here because you hate racism and ‘want to see action taken’, or because you have grievances against certain individuals and want an audience?
‘…to achieve that the anti-camp will in the end have to resort to the kinds of evidential process I’m talking about,’ What ‘evidential process’ are you talking about?
‘Federal money’.. not a term we use in England. I doubt very much there’s loads more money in the pipeline for any free schools, even Steiner.
I don’t intend to harass anyone, do you? In fact I have a lot of fellow feeling for Steiner parents, having been there myself. We all do the best we can.
“No I’m not some man called Sune, I don’t know anything about Bristol. It seems as if any point of view not within group boundaries creates a conviction that you are a Steiner person!”
That’s not what I said dear… I said “This is the type of hysterical conclusion-jumping I would expect from the likes of someone like Sune.”
Perhaps I should have added – “but not from people who want to be considered “Waldorf critics”, which is, as you know, a very prestigious title bestowed on those who always use evidence to support what they claim.”
It’s actually a very easy club to get into… you just need to have evidence to support what you say. And yet, to people who have difficulty with that prerequisite, it may seem like critics are setting “boundaries”. They are, of course, but those are very good boundaries.
Pete, you said: “You’re not *him* are you?” That’s what I was responding to.
You’ve forgotten that bit Sweetie even though it was right next to the bit you’ve just quoted at me to prove that’s not what you meant.
Are you sure you didn’t make the same mistake over what the teacher said all those years ago, and leave off the bit where it was put into historical perspective?
If you’re going to be that blatant even about misquoting yourself, it’s easy to see why Steiner might not be that bothered!
That’s not evidence of anything but a highly selective attitude to facts which is the opposite of what I was asking about/hoping for.
But my prediction stands. If these are the standards of evidence in your quaint little talking “club”, when it’s even written right in front of you, and you even wrote it… Good luck. You’re going to need it!
Sally – is this the five minute argument or the full half-hour?
“Pete, you said: “You’re not *him* are you?” That’s what I was responding to.”
Obviously. So you see some great distinction between being Sune and sounding like Sune? Neither do I.
“Are you sure you didn’t make the same mistake over what the teacher said all those years ago, and leave off the bit where it was put into historical perspective? ”
Nice try… but the statements by the teacher were confirmed and supported by the school. Like I said before, this has been documented with evidence… it isn’t something I pulled out of my ass nor is it something that’s open to interpretation. The teacher said it, the school confirmed it and supported it. There is NO question on the validity of my statement. The school doesn’t even deny making the statements. Plus, I have a good record for credibility… I tend to back up everything I say.
“Are you sure you didn’t make the same mistake over what the teacher said all those years ago, and leave off the bit where it was put into historical perspective?”
Ah – this was actually how you started out – your first posts here actually seemed to be defending Steiner, suggesting the critics had no evidence, expecting the schools to prove a negative, etc. Now you are again suggesting that Pete is either lying or wrong. Your motivation here is really rather unclear – it seems to be mainly to fight, with anyone interested in fighting. Is that it? (I’ll take the “talking club,” thanks.)
I am opening a butcher’s shop. I will be selling meat that has had dog shit on it. But not to worry, the shitty bits will be carefully cut out before I put it on the counter. Look, customers will perfectly understand that I’m going to have to recruit butchers who are used to working in this rather specialised field. It’s not really a problem that the training schools for these butchers have manuals of butchery that say that dog shit improves the taste and nutritional quality of the meat. The ones I recruit lend no credence to those ideas and you can take my word for that. You will also understand that a butcher’s cutting room can be a dangerous place, there are sharp knives and, in our case, old bits of shitty meat lying around the place, so it really wouldn’t be safe to have members of the public see how we work. Fortunately, the public can be assured that we have secured the services of a specialised food-safety inspection service because, of course, the local trading standards people really don’t have the training to judge a shitty meat business.
I look forward to your custom.
Oh, I should also point out that dog shit is sticky stuff and sometimes it gets into places where it’s hard to spot, but you can be confident that we know what we’re doing and if any of our meat leaves you with a slightly shitty aftertaste this is really all in your imagination and, in reality, is just the rich fulsome taste of high-quality meat of a type that most people are not used to eating.
I’ve been to see the new Les Mis film. I really love the Master of the House song. I don’t know why it has just popped into my mind. My favourite stanza goes;
Food beyond compare,
Food beyond belief.
Mix it in a mincer
And pretend it’s beef
I have never accused Nick of lying. That’s almost comical. This is a skeptic’s blog but a request for evidence is immediately and repeatedly referred to as an accusation of lying. Sounds way more religious than skeptical! I’m a skeptic so I don’t tend to accept things just on someone’s say so. I asked for details and evidence of his EHRC story and he provided it. I was a little impatient, it’s true, and I did apologise for it: It was genuine and I’m happy for Nick to accept that or not.
As for Pete, when I pointed out to him that he had directly asked whether I was Sune, (“you’re not *him* are you?”) and that that’s what I was responding to, he said: “So you see some great distinction between being Sune and sounding like Sune? Neither do I.”
Well yes I sure do. If Sune is also asking for evidence of racial discrimination in Steiner, then I guess I might sound like him, but I’m not him, so there’s your distinction right there. This is very basic.
Pete also said that getting into the “Waldorf Critics” club is “actually a very easy club to get into… you just need to have evidence to support what you say. “
Considering how easy Pete contradicted his own statement and misquoted himself, the bar for joining your evidence club sounds like it might bring tears to a professional limbo dancer. Whatever evidence Pete has, I hope it’s more watertight than the “Sune” discussion above.
Diana: You’re the only person using the word ‘contempt’, sure I’m impatient with talking shops about racism, but still agreed that talking about it is a necessary step to action and carried on doing it. It’s seems important to you to present that as contempt, but I never said that – that’s just your interpretation. For some odd reason, which I don’t understand, this skeptical blog seems to contain a disproportionate amount of evidence-haters. That’s why the ad-homs about me not accepting other ways of doing things is funny, because how would that kind of information, or the discovery of process to address this racism, hurt your cause in the slightest?
Is it really racism that’s the problem? Or has the problem now become impatience with racism? Andy’s seems quite happy for such an important discussion to derail to pursue that in facile ad homs, rather than addressing racism at all, except to describe it’s existence in Steiner. Doesn’t it go any further than that? The title of this post calls righteously for Joe’s new school to be “open”, but is this just a numbers game, where the “openness” is only required of Steiner? Is this narrow-focus anti-group actually deliberately installed here to police everything, and to misinterpret any skeptical requests for evidence as accusations of lying?
Why can’t we stick to the subject of racism in education and how to fight it? I thought that was the point. Teaching racism in any school is wrong, we’ve all agreed that. What’s the whole deal with dumping that discussion to misinterpret a call for evidence as being the problem?
Just for the record, I am not happy about you derailing this thread. There have been many insightful and interesting comments. This strand is not one of them. You have made your point. Move on.
“Well yes I sure do. If Sune is also asking for evidence of racial discrimination in Steiner, then I guess I might sound like him, but I’m not him, so there’s your distinction right there. This is very basic. ”
Sune is a troll who pretends to be other people on-line… And I think that’s where the distinction between you and him starts to fall apart. If you’re looking for a distinction here, it is that Sune is still able to post as himself too.
Referring to “Sally,” not Pete.
Andy, I had no idea that asking to see evidence would be judged to be derailing a thread and lead to the blog owner telling me to leave – on a skeptical blog!
I have sent out requests for information regarding racism and Californian law, and if I find something interesting, I hope you’ll allow me to post it here.
Just like I hope that you will allow me to respond should the people who in my opinion truly are derailing this thread, write about me again, like Pete and Diana have above. I hope their latest comments clearly show you where the personal attacks are really coming from.
I would never have expected to meet such hostility on a blog supposedly designed to uncover evidence.
Again, you are misunderstanding the nature of evidence and the burden of proof. No evidence about the Bristol Steiner bid does not mean that there is no problem. Given the nature of Steinerist philosophy, there is a prima facie case that Steiner pedagogy will have racist influences. Evidence is required, from the Steiner School to show there is no cause for concern. Let’s not shift the burden of evidence here and undermine a very straightforward and reasonable request.
In germany, all “Free Waldorf Schools” (as Steiner Schools are called in germany) are publicly funded to a certain extend (round about 85%) – although they are private schools. But the city-state of Hamburg has concrete plans to open a 100% publicly funded Steiner School.
I find this scandalous for the same reasons you present on your blog. So I contacted the german skeptics society (www.gwup.org) and we took some action against these plans.
We are currently running an online petition (https://www.change.org/Petitionen/gegen-die-geplante-staatliche-waldorfschule-in-hamburg).
I’m happy, that german media is covering our actions. So germanys biggest serious newspaper printed an article (http://www.sueddeutsche.de/bildung/kritik-an-erster-staatlicher-waldorfschule-steiner-vom-staat-1.1583357) and today one of the biggest radio stations broadcastet a short feature: http://www.dradio.de/dlf/sendungen/campus/2004639/
I hope we manage to create a political cost for failing science, as Mark Henderson demands in “Geek Revolution”.
Andy, I think you are doing a brilliant job here, providing the public with essential information, that the Steiner movement is unwilling to give!
“Again, you are misunderstanding the nature of evidence and the burden of proof. No evidence about the Bristol Steiner bid does not mean that there is no problem. Given the nature of Steinerist philosophy, there is a prima facie case that Steiner pedagogy will have racist influences.”
You’re making a huge assumption about what I understand or not. I haven’t disagreed in the slightest that there is underlying racism in what you describe of Steinerist philosophy and I certainly haven’t said there’s no problem! It seems important to you to state that I’ve misunderstood, but I think there is a significant lack of understanding here of how law works!!
The problem is, as I’ve tried to explain, in spite of the hostility, is that due to the disclaimers about racism, there is now a situation where the movement has totally rejected all racism (on paper). Isn’t that why the movement is making all those disclaimers all over the place? So what that means is that they’ve managed to convince those in power that they aren’t buying those elements of Steiner philosophy. They apparently did that before gaining the federal funding, it may even have helped. But now they’ve got the green light – so the perceived (and legal) situation is that they are now “in the clear” as it were, until such time as evidence emerges that they are not completely rejecting those racist doctrines. It’s not a question of me undermining the argument, (that’s funny actually), but of there being no actual case to answer. They will just always come back and say “yes but we don’t do that anymore”. And at that point, evidence needs to be supplied to prove that they actually do.
The law doesn’t require them to prove the negative, so how in hell are you going to do it by talking at them? I can see how you could effectively wind them up, probably a lot and for a long time, but actually stopping them from damaging kids with racist propaganda? That won’t happen as long as they can just keep ducking out of the way because there is no evidence. It’s odd that you should accuse me of not understanding this because I’ve noticed that on other subjects you’re generally in favour of prosecuting quacks and totally understand and emphasise the necessity for evidence to do that.
Regarding California private schools, I put through a call through to the Office of Equal Opportunity in California (916 – 445 – 9174) who told me that the legislation concerning discrimination in education applies to all educational establishments, not just public schools. I asked her if she could point me to an overt statement of this, but she said no but that an LEA (Local Educational Agency – can be anything from childcare to private schools), is required to abide by the California Education code Section 220 which prohibits many types of discrimination including racial discrimination. This covers all types of racial discrimination including teaching racist doctrine, as well as the more obvious exclusion or marginalisation of people of colour etc., She said they regularly deal with complaints from private schools in California.
The Office of Equal Opportunity functions as an appeals service. So the parent needs to let the board/owner of the LEA know that there has been a problem, and get a response from them. If the response is unsatisfactory, the parent can then appeal to the Office of Equal Opportunity who have the power to act on the situation. The parent would need to corroborate the situation, and another testimonial to what happened would be sufficient – not a very high bar. If it is found that the LEA has non-compliance with Edu code sect 200, then the OEO can intervene, require training, institute policy etc.,
There is another path, which is to go through the Office of Civil Rights, which is Nationwide and which does not require application to be “on appeal” but you can go straight there with your original complaint. Their number is 415 – 486 – 5555. The advisor suggested that it is a good idea to simply describe the behaviour, or what happened and not use labels, eg racist, because they aren’t helpful and in any case they can work that out for themselves
Complaints have to be made within six months, so obviously this isn’t an option for Pete’s situation above, although had he taken that path, with the statements supporting the racism actually from the school, he would have been in a great position to expose that racism. If it’s still going on, it should definitely be reported to the authorities because it is ILLEGAL.
For some very odd reason that I don’t understand at all, I now anticipate a slew of aggressive denials that this is bunk, won’t work, isn’t relevant etc., which is why I’ve given you the phone numbers, so you can check it out for yourselves. Please don’t deny it, until you’ve got the evidence 🙂
Look, I’m sure there are lots of people who will agree that talking about racism is more important than doing something about it, but I’m not one of them. The ease with which I found this information, given the fury of protestation in this comments section that it’s legal in private schools and therefore impossible to do anything but talk about, is troubling.
Why are you so keen to say that nothing can be done about such a serious problem? One phone call was all it took to dispel that as an unhelpful myth – what a shame that phone call wasn’t made at the time. How many children have had to listen to this shit since then?
Sally, what law in California says doesn’t have a great deal of bearing on how the laws and regulations work in the UK or how they are interpreted by the Local Education Authorities or the EHRC. You say:
“The law doesn’t require them to prove the negative, so how in hell are you going to do it by talking at them? I can see how you could effectively wind them up, probably a lot and for a long time, but actually stopping them from damaging kids with racist propaganda?”
The law in the UK does, however, as has already been said on this thread, suggest that public bodies take positive steps to prevent racism, sexism, homophobia and so forth. Because Anthroposophical spokespeople – who are we assume representing the Anthroposophical/Steiner/Waldorf/Biodynamic/Camphill/Triodos etc. etc. position – still try and claim that Steiner’s philosophy is not intrinsically racist and issue blanket and mild statements to that effect without actually unpicking, explaining and tackling their values and pedagogy, we can rightly assume that they are not taking sufficient steps to ensure equality of opportunity for all their stakeholders: including the local community. It is as a member of a community that is hugely influenced by Steiner that I feel the EHRC should act. Sadly, the EHRC and the local RECs are really only interested in dealing with violence or discrimination because they do not have the funding to risk on institutional racism even though it is illegal in civil terms and sometimes in criminal terms – depending on interpretation. This blog, like many other blogs and net resources on the subject are one way of publicising these issues and do not in any way replace or displace legal action when it is possible.
“It’s not a question of me undermining the argument, (that’s funny actually), but of there being no actual case to answer.”
Yes there is a case to answer on many levels – racism, lying about science, inventing bogus concepts to teach children, not communicating their core beliefs to prospective parents etc, etc.. all that has been mentioned in this thread and elsewhere. You claim to be on the side of the critics and skeptics but, at the same time, you try and deny any agency we might have in the matter. It seems to me you have an issue with Steiner (explain) but actually tend to agree with them on many issues.
Thank goodness for evidence of fully human beings who are still capable of individual thought and deed. I cannot help asking myself if knowing Sally’s ethnic origin is relevant.
Anna, what on earth do you mean? As far as I’m concerned all humans are fully human and in what way do you think Sally’s ethnic origin might be relevant? What kind of a comment was that?
In this case, Nick, I totally agree with you.
Nick said “what law in California says doesn’t have a great deal of bearing on how the laws and regulations work in the UK or how they are interpreted by the Local Education Authorities or the EHRC”.
Correct, but I was quite obviously attending to the question of federal law in California to deal with instances like the disgusting one Peter mentioned and is obviously still really angry about all these years later.
It does have a great bearing on that and shows that there are and were avenues for concrete action, which has been steadfastly denied all down this thread. It’s interesting that the only response is to say its not relevant in the UK! I think you must be challenging me to explore UK law and find some avenues there too. 😉
Nick said “we can rightly assume that they are not taking sufficient steps to ensure equality of opportunity for all their stakeholders:”
Being able to “rightly assume” something isn’t applicable to the execution of law, and if it was it would be even easier for people to frame you or me for whatever they liked!
Nick said “Yes there is a case to answer on many levels – racism, lying about science, inventing bogus concepts to teach children, not communicating their core beliefs to prospective parents etc, etc.. ”
That is not a case. Those are things the schools may be doing, but without proof, they will just worm out of it. Also most of those things aren’t even to do with racism, so you’re veering off the subject as far as I’m concerned as I haven’t made any comment about these other aspects whatsoever.
I think you are mistakenly interpreting my questions about evidence. Obviously these schools have a lot to answer for but that isn’t the same as technically having a case to answer.
It’s very silly for you to try and extrapolate that I’m aligned in some way with Steiner because I’m consistently saying that, on the evidence presented here, they should be prosecuted into the ground for racial discrimination.
These assumptions and generalisations are not a kind of skepticism I’m at all familiar with. Reading back it can only really be because of misinterpretation of my statement about “no case to answer”.
A case is a complicated thing. If you try to bring, as a case, that they have made “mild and blanket statements” about racism, my hunch, after looking at the Steiner Waldorf.Org website is that they will quote themselves as having rejected “any racism, stated or implied, in any of Rudolf Steiner’s speeches and writings”. The burden of proof will fall on “you” (whoever is bringing this action), to prove that this statement is a.mild and b. blanket.
They would probably simply argue that is is not blanket or mild but strong and comprehensive. To stay in the argument you will need evidence, of why it is in fact mild and blanket, or of how they are not upholding the statement. If you haven’t got it, it’s just your word against theirs. I guess if they felt really threatened by that line of questioning, they might just beef up the statement a bit more….
“Sadly, the EHRC and the local RECs are really only interested in dealing with violence or discrimination because they do not have the funding to risk on institutional racism even though it is illegal in civil terms and sometimes in criminal terms – depending on interpretation.”
Yes it’s a shame that there isn’t money to trounce Steiner for racism (you wouldn’t stand a chance on the criminal angle, especially with these statements they’ve put out), but FFS almost every organisation is institutionally racist, (and sexist, disablist, ageist etc.,) so you can easily see why that’s a hard nut to crack.
But these teachings are definitely discriminatory – I hope we are at least agreed on that – so you’re providing an avenue yourself right there, which has a much lower standard of proof which is – that it happens.
You state that this blog doesn’t “displace legal action when it is possible”. But if you don’t pick up your own statement that
“”the EHRC and the local RECs are … interested in dealing with violence or discrimination” and apply it to the very real discrimination in these teachings, and if you don’t pick up on possible actions in the US because they’re not applicable in Britain, I would assert you are definitely “displacing possible legal action” twice right there, and therefore your statement about what the blog is doing is false.
The rest of your comment is heading onto irrelevant personal ground but does illustrate the difference between an evidence based approach and mere supposition so…
Nick said “You claim to be on the side of the critics and skeptics”
Where is that? I’ve stated Im a skeptic, that doesn’t mean I’m siding with anyone or anything but a skeptical viewpoint, which is a priori independent. A viewpoint that takes sides cannot be skeptical by the definition of the word. That’s just using the word skeptic, but really talking about being in some group or other – meaningless in terms of skepticism.
Nick said “you try and deny any agency we might have in the matter.”
Oh come on! It’s not me denying agency all down this thread, even when the law says otherwise. You’ve even glossed over my production of a legal avenue, which several commentators have categorically claimed doesn’t exist, merely because it applies to a specific instance in another country! If that isn’t denying agency I don’t know what is.
What agency do you actually have that I’ve denied? That is a pretty inaccurate statement. It sounds like you just want the schools to go away because you don’t like them! What a wonderful world that would be eh?
“It seems to me you have an issue with Steiner (explain) but actually tend to agree with them on many issues.”
Yeah? Where are you getting that from? Because I state that you need evidence to prosecute? That means I am agreeing with Steiner people on “many issues” which I haven’t even mentioned? Hmmm if you tried that in court I would make a meal of you Nicky baby.
It can be tough for people to understand that law doesn’t function around sensibilities and that subjecting statements to forensic examination is not a hostile act, but necessary to build watertight cases which can succeed.
It pretty obvious that this is not what people here want to do as there is zero enthusiasm for the legal facts of the matter, and no joy at all in learning that schools can be held to account, but only a criticism from Brits that this is only in California – which is where the alleged offensive teaching actually happened!
There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for positioning around the argument and generalised statements and assumptions – (which I notice is exactly what you are also apparently complaining about re Steiner). Your personal statements about my viewpoint, as well as being irrelevant, are also pure suppositions, based on nothing whatsoever, but appear to be trying to frame my disgust with racism as somehow pro-Steiner, and then asking me to explain that! Whatever that is about, I don’t understand the agenda there at all.
To get back to the important subject that this blog-post claims to be about, racism, I’d be interested to know what agency you actually feel you have without recourse to evidential law and how you are going to use it to actually stop the racist doctrines.
Can you give me any hard info on that please?
“Being able to “rightly assume” something isn’t applicable to the execution of law, and if it was it would be even easier for people to frame you or me for whatever they liked!”
Yes it is: the base-line for enacting equality of opportunity in all public organisations in the UK is clearly laid down in EHRC regulations and supported by statute – it is not voluntary. As Steiner organisations do not follow those guidelines – indeed Anthroposophical texts are profoundly outside the guidelines – my assumption is not only reasonable but correct.
If you’re interested in serious research about Waldorf and why not have a look at the WREN website. http://www.ecswe.org/wren/researchpapers_outcomes.html
The second paper down refers to recent research related to racism in Waldorf pupils (done in Germany).
“According to the study led by Christian Pfeiffer, Professor of Criminology, pupils at Waldorf schools exhibit the lowest levels of both xenophobia and right-wing extremism. At Hauptschulen (the lowest tier of the German three-tiered school system), 24.7% of pupils harbour xenophobic and 9.5% right-wing tendencies. This drops to 8.3% and 1.9% respectively at Gymnasiums (the highest tier school, the equivalent of grammar schools).But only 2.8% of Waldorf pupils can be considered to have xenophobic and 1.2% right-wing attitudes.
According to these figures, Hauptschule pupils showthree times more xenophobia than Gymnasium pupils,and Gymnasium pupils three times more than Waldorf pupils. This clearly very low figure is especially striking when seen in conjunction with the fact that in some other categories (e.g. graffiti-spraying, shop-lifting and truancy) the study shows Waldorf pupils to be level-pegging with Hauptschule pupils and way above Gymnasium pupils.
The results regarding ‘macho’ attitudes are even more striking, with Waldorf pupils scoring an extremely low rating: Only 0.3% of ninth-year pupils agreed with statements such as ‘A man who is not prepared to react to insults with violence is a weakling’, or ‘If a woman cheats on her husband it is o.k. for him to beat her’. For
Gymnasium pupils the figure was almost seven time higher (2.0%), and for Hauptschule pupils compared with Gymnasium pupils ‘only’ a bit over four times more (8.7%).”
Rather strangely for an apparent racist movement there are Waldorf school around the world (1,000 or so I believe), Europe, US, South America, Africa, Asia. And guess what in Kenya they have black pupils with black teachers and in China they have Chinese pupils with Chinese teachers. And guess what…”under the apartheid regime in South Africa, the Waldorf school was one of the few schools in which children of both races attended the same classes, despite the ensuing loss of state aid. A Waldorf training college in Cape Town, the Novalis Institute, was referenced during UNESCO’s Year of Tolerance for being an organization that was working towards reconciliation in South Africa.” [wikipedia]
All sounds rather odd for an apparently racist movement!
The charge of racism at Steiner Schools is not that pupils become skinheaded hate mongers. The charge is that Steiner’s pedagogy systematical treats children differently based on their physical appearance. Teachers may also be influenced by Steiner’s belief in a racial spiritual heirarchy.
This has been pointed out many times to the Steinerists, but they pretty much refuse to engage with he actual criticisms and instead engage with a straw man.
The question is where is the evidence for such a charge being the case in Steiner schools? There is no evidence, that I am aware of, that teachers in Steiner schools treat ‘children differently based on their physical appearance’. And as I note above that would be a strange way to teach Kenyan teachers about how to teach Kenyan pupils! Asking questions and expecting answers is reasonable. What I find strange is the level of polemic as it doesn’t seem to have any evidence base with respect to what is actually going on in Steiner schools in this country. As far as I know you don’t have any special interest nor any special experience of educational pedagogy or child development. If you’re really interested in what goes on in Steiner schools I’m not sure how you could make any meaningful judgements without doing some research in them or at least about them, speaking with the teachers and importantly with the pupils. I’m not sure what bad outcomes you’re concerned about? Especially when there seems no evidence for these actually being the case, perhaps even the opposite. This must say something about what is going on in these schools. Does this mean every Steiner teacher or school is brilliant, no of course not – are there some weak teachers in Steiner schools, yes of course. This can be said of pretty much any school in the country. Will you find disgruntled ex-Steiner pupils and parents, yes…again not so unusual across the board.
For someone who stands by evidence and research I will be interested to hear of the evidence/research as to why the pedagogical approach used in Steiner schools is inappropriate and particularly why the educational outcomes for children, which is after all the important point, are not good.
Steiner taught that children should be taught according to their ‘temperaments’ – a pseudoscientific classification. It is not up to Steiner schools to show that they do not use these methods.
I have spoken with many ex and current Steiner parents and teachers. Indeed, I was in the pub yesterday evening with several having a chat about all these issues?
As I make repeatedly clear, given Steiner’s demands of his first teachers, and so what defines a Steiner School, it is up to current Steiner schools to be open with parents about just what it is they take from Steiner in their education and why. The evasiveness about this issue, and the attempt to turn the quesiton onto my credentials, is telling.
Your credentials are not relevant, except I’m interested in what’s really motivating you? I note that as you draw attention to my evasiveness you take attention away from your not answering the question I asked. Cunning.
OK. Warning. Happy to have conversations about my posts. But not meta-conversations. It’s a way of derailing comments. As far as I can see I have addressed your comments. If you think there are things not discussed, then please rephrase and repost.
Andy wrote: “As I make repeatedly clear, given Steiner’s demands of his first teachers, and so what defines a Steiner School, it is up to current Steiner schools to be open with parents about just what it is they take from Steiner in their education and why. ”
More importantly, what they refute from Steiner education… not a blanket “We refute everything bad that Steiner said” – but *specifically* what they have tossed out of Waldorf as nonsense – since the early Waldorf schools of Steiner’s day and the later Waldorf schools who claimed to be completely aligned with Nazi Germany’s ideals. Have they discarded ANYTHING at all?
You may have seen your questions answered on the ‘waldorf answers’ website. If not, and also for the benefit of your readers, it can be found at http://www.waldorfanswers.com/Myths.htm. I think this describes the relationship with anthroposophy, and of course to appreciate that relationship one has to have some understanding of what anthroposophy is and isn’t. I hope this helps.
Wow… what a shocker… a link to Sune’s website. Sune, why did you choose the name “Africa” this time? Just curious.
have you ever set foot in a Steiner school and seen for yourself how happy the kids are? You can actually do this in many countries, cultures and religions, with people of all races and colours. I advise you to do this rather than spend your time writing the nonsense you write here. Life is short.. your next incarnation is looming…
I am sure there are many happy kids. Getting happy kids is easy. Educating them another matter.
Well, they come to school where we educate them and they’re still happy. Steiner left some important insights into child development and age-appropriate curriculum and pedagogy, and it has been proven to work. Have a look for yourself. Obviously it challenges modern, scientific-empirical models of education, but many people in the world aren’t happy with that either. So, if you want national curriculum go to a ‘normal’ school. If you want an alternative, Steiner is an option and the philosophy isn’t hidden. Many people have views on life that are outside the atheist-humanist-normal scientific spectrum, and will continue to do so.
Perhaps you could sum up for us what Steiner’s “important insights into child development and age-appropriate curriculum” were with a brief justification?
Yes Andy, Steiner’s insights into the child and how education should meet the child’s needs are in the following: The Kingdom of Childhood, Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy, Study of Man, Practical Advice to Teachers, The Renewal of Education, a Modern Art of Education.. to name a few. They’re quite easy to get hold of and make a fascinating read. I can also give you some advice on how to train as a Steiner teacher if you want it. Happy reading!!
That is not ‘summing up’. That is throwing a lot of source material around knowing that it dies not answer the question.
You make a specific claim about Steiner’s insights and how it has been proven to work. I am interested to see what you think is relevant in the modern world and how you know.
Would you like to try again, and in your own words describe briefly the core nature of Steiner’s insights into child development?
I think Dr Phil has a point.
Also, I’m curious as to whether a teacher in the state school system would be able to sum up the state’s view on child development,the national curriculum, and how these two inter-relate.
Would Mr Lewis be able to do this?
Well Josie, I am sure that would make an interesting blog post for someone somewhere else. Right now we are discussing Steiner Schools.
And in particular the claims on websites that the School follows the views of child development according to Rudolf Steiner?
Are you implying that teachers in such schools do not know even though this is a headline selling point?
How would you like to play this?
I’m suggesting that educational philosophies, both governmental and non-governmental, have been years in the making and are still being constantly developed and evolved by pedagogics the world over. Therefore, perhaps it is unfair to expect someone to ‘sum up’ all this work and theory in a blog entry.
Bullet points aren’t going to give the full picture, especially with regards to child development and educational theory, as I’m sure any parent or teacher would know.
There is a wealth of information out there, on all forms of education, for any parent taking the choice seriously. You need to visit schools, talk to teachers, meet pupils, look at the school’s curriculum and policies and make an informed choice.
Agree with this. Us Steiner teachers are too busy knitting gnomes and planning anthroposophical indoctrinations to give lengthy responses to the intellectual sceptics. Your arguments are abstract and tedious anyway because the child is lost in your philosophical ramblings. Actually, I went to a ‘normal’ state school myself.. it was brutal and my teachers ranged from Nazi sympathisers to homophobes, although they were all trained in the national curriculum. Quite sinister really. Cheer up!!
“Us Steiner teachers are too busy knitting”
Um… shouldn’t it be “we” Steiner teachers? Of course it should… Are you also too busy to learn the English language? You’re TEACHERS after all. Students will mimic your bad grammar, won’t they?
Could you point to ONE THING Steiner indicated about children that’s more insightful than what we know today?
BTW, I’m someone who spent more than two decades in Waldorf environments… 😉
I hear this from homeopaths saying “we are too busy healing people to respond” and yet they find time to crop up on blogs like this, make unsubstantiated claims, then leave in a huff.
You are following a well trodden path.
My charge is that Steiner Schools cannot be open about the occult nature of their pedagogy. You do nothing to disabuse me of this belief.
An ‘occult’ pedagogy doesn’t make sense. Through pedagogy ideas and knowledge are communicated in the physical world.. through human interaction and discourse in the classroom. This requires speech and writing etc.. a human organism rather than abstract metaphysical ideas. What steiner did do, hoever, was link the spiritual (‘occult’ is an unfortunate and misleading lexicon)with the physical.
you clearly don’t want to be disabused and will hold on to your pathetic boat for dear life. Get a life.
looking at you quackery world and your devotion to it I was wondering what really inspires you apart from criticising other’s beliefs. What is your actual belief? Your view on life seems so negatively defined, I was wondering if you’re having a mid-life crisis or something and, in the sub-text, really searching for more meaning? Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual insights could help.
On the other point, you ask about Steiner’s views on child development. Well, Steiner school’s, pedagogically, work rigorously with thinking, feeling (linked to imagination) and willing (doing), so that knowledge and ideas, as much as possible, can grow and develop with the human organism and its organic functioning. In a holistic way (I bet you hate this word) learning is therefore an embodied rather than abstract-intellectual process. This is why steiner schools can cope successfully with mixed ability classes and engage children on many levels and they are rarely bored or feel excluded. In fact, this keeps their intellect alive (quite a few Steiner graduates go on to the top universities).
Now, the so-called ‘occult’ dimension of this pedagogy can be understood in anthroposophical literature, just as the mainstream discursive element of pedagogy can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophers. There was a time when that was also seen as occult, just as the ‘magical-metaphysical’ properties of reading was in the Middle Ages… conjuring up vivid imaginations through a physical act.
What we work with intensively in Steiner Schools is a broader view of the intellect, with the will and feeling (imaginative) nature of thinking. This is all that really happens in the Steiner school and the pupils really engage with it. The ‘occult’ dimension of this can be understood (and Steiner had a knowledge of this), just as the ethical basis of human cultures and practice can be found in religion, whether we realize it or not.
Ignoring you rather crude and silly attempt to peer into my soul, let’s look at your response.
I must say, lots of words have been used but not much content. It is either extremely vague, indistinguishable from what any other school might say or just bald assertion (work so well with mixed ability?).
Let’s just take one sentence – “What we work with intensively in Steiner Schools is a broader view of the intellect, with the will and feeling (imaginative) nature of thinking. ”
Can you give a concrete example of this as it happens in the Steiner curriculum and describe with evidence why this improves outcomes?
“This is why steiner schools can cope successfully with mixed ability classes and engage children on many levels and they are rarely bored or feel excluded.”
Any evidence that the children don’t feel bored or excluded? Almost ALL Waldorf students complain about being bored in school. Have YOU actually talked with Waldorf students (freely)?
“In fact, this keeps their intellect alive (quite a few Steiner graduates go on to the top universities).”
And the vast majority don’t. In fact, most come out of high school soured on education. The ones that actually MAKE it all the way through Waldorf that is. If kids love it so much, why such a HUGE turnover in Waldorf schools? The truth is, kids don’t like Waldorf, and parents put them there anyway. They don’t learn and often cause problems out of sheer boredom. That’s REALLY what Waldorf environments are like… not some fantasy Waldorf teachers have created.
“What we work with intensively in Steiner Schools is a broader view of the intellect, with the will and feeling (imaginative) nature of thinking. ”
“Broader view of the intellect” – Well, that’s one way to put it. Steiner put it a different way:
“Human beings must embark upon the unpleasant task of abandoning the mode of thinking [i.e., intellect] which the universities produce in the so-called educated classes today….” [BEHIND THE SCENES OF EXTERNAL HAPPENINGS, Nov. 6,
“The danger of succumbing to the realm of Ahriman was at its greatest around the year 333 BC. This was the moment in time when humanity began to make use of mere intellect,
mere logic.” [GUARDIAN ANGELS, pp. 96-97.]
Ever wonder why Waldorf grads seem so nice?
Good children “have a respect that forbids them, even in the deepest recess of their heart, to harbour any thoughts
of criticism or opposition.” [KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT, p. 10.]
I’m not sure where you get your views on the unhappiness of Steiner pupils from. I’ve had experience of a number of Steiner schools in the UK, I have also talked freely to pupils to listen to their views, many of whom have come from state schools. They all say the same thing: they are happier in the Steiner school because they have more freedom to be children and be themselves, express themselves. An education that indoctrinates could not do this. The freedom of the individual is an essential part of anthroposophy and also the Steiner school.
Of course, I’m not going to convince anyone on this sceptics website so I’m going to take leave now. I’ll leave with this note: there is generally the misguided assumption here that Steiner’s anthroposophical teachings are blindly accepted and taught in the school. That simply does not happen.
I left teaching in the state system because it is controlled by bureaucrats and unfree. The Steiner movement is growing partly because it honours the freedom of children to be what they are: children. Steiner wrote deeply about the importance of freedom and the individual (see the Philosophy of Freedom). Not that we need Steiner to tell us how important this is.
“They all say the same thing: they are happier in the Steiner school because they have more freedom to be children and be themselves, express themselves.”
NO, they really aren’t… nor are they confused that they are. Parents, walk into ANY Waldorf classroom… look at the art on the walls and see if it appears to you that the children are free to express themselves.
“An education that indoctrinates could not do this. The freedom of the individual is an essential part of anthroposophy and also the Steiner school.”
Perhaps, but in Waldorf (and Anthroposophy), children aren’t individuals yet… they’re still incarnating… still becoming individuals. They are intentionally guided – that’s the purpose of Waldorf education. They do not have the freedom to be themselves – AT ALL. Time and time again, we hear apologia from Waldorf that says “Waldorf isn’t for all children”. The truth is, it’s not for children who are intent on being individuals – it’s for children who are in the Waldorf production line. Again, that’s why generalizations about how wonderful and polite Waldorf grads are make the rounds… People are literally meeting cookie-cutter personalities… NOT individuals.
Josie – I am asking about Steiner not all “governmental and non-governmental” philosophies, whatever they may be.
You see, I could sum up what Steiner thought about child development in a few sentences. Not the complete picture, but enough for someone to get where he was coming from.
It is noticable that supporters of Steiner schools either cannot or do not want to.
I think I know why.
Hey Andy, the idea of having a ‘soul’ suggests you warm to idea of a metaphysical realm??
A ‘concrete’ example of working with the children to educate in a holistic way? Well, a lot of number work in the lower years (class 1 and 2) is undertaken through movement (clapping, stamping etc) which engages the child natural sense of rhythm. Imaginative stories are also used to introduce young children to the arithmetical processes. In this way children can fully engage and relate to numbers, more so than if they are introduced as abstract concepts. Pedagogically, we
aim to work from imagination and doing to the more clearly defined abstract notion of the concept. This keeps thinking alive and creative. This doesn’t mean to say ‘learning outcomes’ are less rigorous. If you measure these by the state assessment criteria you will find that Steiner schools perform well above the national average (have a look at Wynstones GCSE and A level results). Most of what we do, however, is for the general health of the child (building confidence, sociability, creativity etc.) which are quite difficult to measure by formal standards. As I said, Steiner schools are not for everyone.
Is it not possible to teach them how to count and do simple sums?
Clapping and stamping seems a remarkably peculiar way of understanding (for example) how much they have in their bank account. Claps and stamps are also very difficult to encapsulate in equations.
I am hardly qualified to speak on his behalf but I sincerely doubt that LCN worries overmuch about his soul or metaphysics – or even the supernatural, where all of your postings seem to belong.
maybe kids shouldn’t be reading bank accounts or doing equations at 7 years?
My son teached himself to read. He is 6 now and he will come to school this summer (we live in germany).
It was the most natural thing for him to do. Nobody forced him, it was just his insterest. Why should he wait for the change of teeth? In a Waldorfschool he would be forced to draw circles for a whole year, until he would be teached to read and write. That has nothing to do with “educating children in a holistic way” it is plain esoteric bullshit.
Waldorf education not for you then. Given the standard of your English maybe this is a good idea..
My english isn’t too good, that’s true. I’m not a native speaker unfortunatly. My hearing and reading abilities are actually much better than my writing. I at least I can read Steiners original texts, although it is not much of a delight to read them.
But what have my english skills to do with the right school for my son?
Nice comment Phil.
Perhaps you should have responded to Andre in fluent German (or possibly Italian?).
I am sure you think so. Either that, or Steiner spoke an enormous amount of mumbo-jumbo.
p.s. Why have I been given such a strange little fanged face?
Dr Phil wrote: “If you measure these by the state assessment criteria you will find that Steiner schools perform well above the national average (have a look at Wynstones GCSE and A level results). ”
No, they don’t. Not if you use the statistics appropriately and you’re careful to compare like with like.
It seems only fair to compare Wynstones with other independent schools where pupils may come from a similar socio-economic background. Doing that, we find that in 2012 52% of Wynstones pupils achieved GCSE grades A*/A, below the national average of 60%. 92% at Wynstones achieved grades A*-C, a shade below the national average of 94%. At A-level, the number of pupils taking exams at Wynstones is too small to be sure of a meaningful comparison: the average number of pupils taking any one subject is only 3.
That’s only for one year, which might be unrepresentative, but if you can show me evidence to back up your claim, I’ll happily look at it.
“Imaginative stories are also used to introduce young children to the arithmetical processes. In this way children can fully engage and relate to numbers, more so than if they are introduced as abstract concepts.”
Yes, and also, imaginative stories are used to introduce young children to ALL KINDS OF THINGS ANTHROPOSOPHICAL as well. That’s what the imaginative stories are for. Take the “Rainbow Bridge” story, for example. This story is told on the child’s birthday… and describes the reincarnation process, and the child choosing their parents (and in some cases it’s extended to include their teacher and classmates). The story relates the ideas of reincarnation and karma to very, VERY young children. It’s part of Waldorf’s effort to indoctrinate them to Anthroposophy.
Dr Phil: “maybe kids shouldn’t be reading bank accounts or doing equations at 7 years?”
Why not? Serious question. I had my own savings account and had a slightly precocious curiosity about algebra at 7 years old. Unusual perhaps, but not pathological. (Unless we’re talking about spiritual pathologies… 🙂
“The Steiner movement is growing partly because it honours the freedom of children to be what they are: children.”
I’m all for a rounded, broad education but as you say, Steiner education is not for everybody. I think this is precisely because it denies the freedom of children with more academic inclinations to pursue their interests. A child who’s interested in reading and maths at an early age is still a child and deserves that freedom, surely?
Well, Montessori is probably a better option for that. Different school systems have different practices, aims and goals. What’s wrong with that?
Nothing at all, so long as you’re totally clear and transparent on what those practices, aims and goals actually are so that parents can make an informed choice. The original point of this blog post was that Steiner schools aren’t.
If you, as a Steiner teacher, encountered a 7 year old child with early academic interests who was perhaps a little behind in their social and physical skills, I expect you’d advocate working especially on the latter. Why not nurture the academic side too? You’ve implied that you wouldn’t, because that’s not what Steiner schools are about at such an age, but I’m wanting you to explain why not.
Two things: Steiner education is what it says on the label: Steiner Education. Go see what Steiner says about education to understand the education that is under his name. So how can the system be attempting to hide something? It’s there in the key texts and you can access them easily. If parents send there kids to such a specialist school then you would expect them to inquire into what Steiner is about.
On the other point.. the academic is nurtured at 7, but through that part of the child’s inner life that dominates its cognitive faculty.. it’s feelings and imagination. I agree that some kids even at a young are inclined towards intellectual thinking, and if this is what you want to focus on then a Steiner education is perhaps not suitable. As I’ve said before, I’ve personally known quite a few Steiner pupils who’ve gone from school to Oxbridge, and with very few GCSEs. However, the very social nature of Steiner pupils is equally important as academic attainment.
As this thread shows, it is not as easy as that.
If you go and look at Steiner you see racism, clairvoyance, and overwhelming belief in the importance of karma and reincarnation. You see his pseudoscientific views on all subjects from biology, history to geology.
When Steiner Schools are then challenged, “are you still believing all this stuff?”, we get vague answers of “we are inspired by the themes of Steiner.” When challenged to spell out which bits have been rejected and which bits are ‘inspiring’, we get flannelling.
The best explanation is that there are people in significant positions within Steiner education who have not rejected any of Steiner’s words and indeed still follow his advice to deny anthroposophical and spiritual links quite so such criticism can be deflected.
Until such times as we get straight answers, it is difficult to hold any other position.
You are right Steiner’s work on education can be accessed online and is easy to buy.
The problem is that when the school prospectus talks about ‘head .heart and hands’ an artistic and relaxed curriculum based on Steiner’s ideas of child development we parents imagine an arty relaxed school and as it says in capitals that ANTHROPOSOPHY IS NOT TAUGHT AT THE SCHOOL we don’t go and find masses of curriculum books and Steiner lectures just to check out if actually the curriculum is to help our children’s incarnations !
A parent doesn’t expect a school to lie about its aims. I find this thread fascinating because what is unfolding is exactly what parents are up against. You won’t tell the truth you suggest going and getting the information ourselves. I’ve read a massive amount of Steiner’s theory on education and I know that in class 6 my daughter’s whole class did wet on wet paintings of volcanoes. Every picture looked the same,the kids couldn’t use hard edges in this exercise because they are not allowed ( soft edges,curved walls keep the spirit world close ) The ‘Age of Discovery’ is taught the year after as prescribed by Steiner and not one modern explorer was included it was as though it was taught by a teacher in 1920 ( not surprising ! ) -no Ellen McArthurs in those lessons.
I just remember thinking ‘these people don’t have to follow the national curriculum,why the hell is everything so old fashioned ?’ I thought it would be broad minded and that the kids would study contemporary artists/writers/musicians etc.
The curriculum is followed strictly,the children are discouraged from questioning and thinking for themselves,the complete opposite of the PR that is put out. The schools know that the education is anti intellectual and its not even artistic if you have to do the same pictures as everyone else ( especially if you get your veiling painting ‘wrong’ or don’t decorate your main lesson book in the ‘correct ‘way ,and it takes time to rub out black lines and change them to a pastel colour ! )
Eurythmy is compulsory ,it has nothing to do with dance the kids hate it ,it is there to correct the difficulties they are having in their souls. I read the bloody eurythmy book for teachers it was hard work ! There is a pattern of movements ( sorry visible speech ) that can cure a child who has ‘too much ambition ‘ !
If I’m wrong about eurythmy Dr Phil can you write your version of what you think Steiner used it for ?
Steiner believed children up until the age of 14 should follow their teachers ideas completely as they hadn’t yet karmically developed their own free will. My daughter’s class spent every day copying from the board, copying the teacher’s words and drawings. Steiner says this is how it should be in the books you are recommending we read.
He also says teachers shouldn’t intervene in bullying as it may mess with the child’s karma.’How much victimisation is healthy ?’ was the question asked at a teacher’s meeting. Err none perhaps…
A few teachers at our school had to fill in an ethnicity form, they said they had been all the races on the form -they were all white proving to me that they thought being white was the most evolved.
I put my non white child in that environment and I’m livid.
I’m sure a few Steiner children have gone on to Oxbridge ,so have home educated kids ,kids from state schools and kids from private schools but I know the education is very week.I know all 8 of children who left my daughters class in class 7 and 8 struggled in state schools academically and needed extra help. A girl who recently left was accepted into a good state school in London as they felt so sorry for her and were appalled by the gaps in her knowledge.
I think that there is a real place in society for vocational schools but Steiner schools are saying that they are good academically too and they are not ! Plus they are not artistic either but stifle creativity as the art lessons aren’t about art. My daughter is dyslexic and is doing a vocational diploma now but I feel the academic kids are being cheated in Steiner schools as they are not going to reach their potential through the work they do at school.
Do you agree that reading is not taught till 7 / when teeth drop because the child’s soul is not ready ? This is what is in the books you want us to read.
Also thanks Mark H for the Wynstone results,good for people to see.I wish they had been printed on the whole page Steiner school advert that appeared in the Guardian supplement ‘2.4 Children’ on 23rd Feb. In the ad it says at Steiner schools there is ‘traditional teaching of core subjects’ In the two years my daughter was at Steiner school I saw no traditional teaching AT ALL apart from PE ( actually football wasn’t allowed so scratch that ! )
Sounds like you’ve had a bad experience, but from my experience of Steiner schools a vast majority of pupils leave very happy and with a wealth of positive experiences that really do help them through their lives. Some have issues. Many have issues with the divisive and exam-led state educational system too. I can assure you that a state-funded Steiner school will have far fewer disaffected pupils than a regular comprehensive. This can only be a positive thing. This will be the case because Steiner schools put as much emphasis on the social and emotional well-being of the chld as they do on the academic. They work with mixed ability classes. Working with such classes I’ve had the highest academic ability alongside SEN pupils. Many pupils disaffected from state schools have entered Steiner and thrived. I know this because I’ve taught them, spent time getting to know them, and taught them the Steiner curriculum.
Regarding the curriculum, you will know that the historical narrative through the class years follows the development of the child. This is a complex narrative that foremost attempts to engage with the sense of wonder and imagination that is still alive in the child’s consciousness. So, in class 6, the historical narrative, which is also a geographical one, is alive with stories of exploration from the Renaissance. Although our adult politicized consciousness would want a more politicized, post-colonial treatment of history or geography, I would argue that an 11 year old is more inspired and engaged by a sense of wonder of nature. Through the imagination a sense of otherness is also evoked and assimilated. In fact, that is all we have to work with.. imagination. If imagination at this age is not engaged then the teaching is dead. We have a whole lifetime to theorize, politicize, intellecualize and textualize the world. The child, however, is living far closer to it, in a world beyond the purely academic-intellectual. In the older years, however, most of our classroom talk is political, cultural and personal. It’s really free and alive.
It’s also nonsense to think that pupils are not allowed to express their own views. Pedagogy is narrative based and most of what we do is talk, and I can assure you that the teacher doesn’t do all the talking.
sorry you think so bad of it.
For anybody considering a Steiner school, reading Steiner’s work is very good advice, of course. As Andy points out, it’s very difficult to separate out the spiritual concepts from the practical pedagogy.
To take a specific example, in the Kingdom of Childhood (which you recommended earlier) Steiner talks about the hierarchy of physical, etheric and astral bodies each of which comes to the fore at birth, age 7 and age 14 respectively. The Steiner curriculum is laid out, rather rigidly, in terms of these 7 year periods.
A question about this hierarchy of bodies:
(a) is it allegorical and intended as such by Steiner? or is it
(b) a quaint, out-dated 19th century idea that we know understand better in terms of something else? or is it
(c) still pedagogically useful to suppose that they really exist? (At least in some spiritual, metaphysical, rather than scientific sense.)
There may be other possibilities I haven’t thought of, but which is closest, do you think Dr Phil, (a),(b) or (c) ?
“Sounds like you’ve had a bad experience, but from my experience of Steiner schools a vast majority of pupils leave very happy and with a wealth of positive experiences that really do help them through their lives. ”
The ones who made it all the way through you mean. How about discussing the dozen children who tried Waldorf and DIDN’T have positive experiences, for each Waldorf grad who you claim had them? And let’s also discuss the Waldorf grads – once they were out of their sheltered environment… how did they do in the real world? You keep bringing up your personal stories… but in my experience, the great majority of Waldorf grads have trouble in college and those who don’t end up becoming Waldorf teachers end up in careers like cooking and gardening (IOW, the same crap they’ve been doing since kindergarten). The reality is, Waldorf doesn’t prepare kids for life in the real world, it prepares them for more Waldorf life.
I’d be interested to know about your personal experience. Are you talking about yourself, articles you’ve read, or are your comments just fuelled by your basic ignorance. seems like the latter to me. Actually, where would our physical bodies be without cooking and gardening, especially of the biodynamic kind? Tut, tut…
“I’d be interested to know about your personal experience. Are you talking about yourself, articles you’ve read, or are your comments just fuelled by your basic ignorance. seems like the latter to me.”
Well, if you’re interested in my personal experience, I’ll invite you to read my blogs: http://petekaraiskos.blogspot.com/ and http://thewaldorfreview.blogspot.com/ – The first describes my personal experience – over two decades, the second CONFIRMS that my experience isn’t unique – that the same things I experienced have been experienced by hundreds of parents involved with Waldorf schools. My experience is extensive and includes starting a Waldorf initiative. I may have more Waldorf experience than YOU do. Furthermore, I’m not promoting Waldorf schools, so there’s no motivation, financial or missionary, to skew the truth. Much of my testimony is related in court documents and is subject to the laws of perjury if it was found to be untrue.
The truth hurts, doesn’t it?
Sorry, but it’s not my experience nor my truth, so it doesn’t hurt.
I could just as well prove otherwise through countless testimonies of students and parents who have positive experiences of Steiner education.
Are you Mr Perra himself? I will read your account but a long essay entitled ‘indoctrination’ does not suggest a balanced account. Most of the problem here, and with most of the critics, lies with the idea that an educational system can have have at its core a philosophy based on spiritual principles. You talk about the esoteric nature of these principles as if they are only accessible to a chosen few zealots whose only mission is to brainwash.
Can you tell what the core principles are of CofE schools in the UK are, or Catholic schools, or Islamic schools? Do people who profess to call themselves ‘Christian’ hold any metaphysical belief? If so, then any of the schools that draw on such belief systems should also be condemned and banished.
Steiner’s views on spirituality, although esoteric in the sense that they draw on a knowledge and wisdom that only a few have the human capacity to access (some individualities are exceptional, and give new knowledge to understand the human condition.. Aristotle, Plato, da Vinci, Aquinas, Freud, Gandhi, Goethe, Marx etc.. great thinkers have challenged norms) his ideas are there to read, they are not hidden.
“Are you Mr Perra himself?”
No, I always declare who I am truthfully. I’m Pete Karaiskos.
“I will read your account but a long essay entitled ‘indoctrination’ does not suggest a balanced account.”
Balanced? I’m pretty sure Mr. Perra was more concerned about being “truthful” than about presenting a “balanced” view.
Dr. Phil wrote:
“You talk about the esoteric nature of these principles as if they are only accessible to a chosen few zealots whose only mission is to brainwash.”
But then later in the same post wrote:
“Steiner’s views on spirituality, although esoteric in the sense that they draw on a knowledge and wisdom that only a few have the human capacity to access…”
Contradict yourself much?
In fact, this is not a contradiction. The first comment refers to the misguided assumption of critics like yourself. The second refers to the truth of the matter.
Dr. Phil: “Sorry, but it’s not my experience nor my truth, so it doesn’t hurt.
“I could just as well prove otherwise through countless testimonies of students and parents who have positive experiences of Steiner education.”
Ah, but you haven’t. Nobody has. Where are the “countless” testimonies from Waldorf students? Has anyone produced them yet? It took me all of a few afternoons to compile hundreds of testimonies from parents and children who have been HARMED by Waldorf. You’d think, by now, there must be a list of the ones who have claimed Waldorf as their reason for success… right? Where’s the list of successful Waldorf grads who attribute their success to their Waldorf education? You guys have been at it for 100 years now. The list should be extensive. Please point me to it.
Why don’t you distribute a questionnaire to parent bodies and ask them their views directly?? You could stand at the school’s gates. Also, the fact that there are well over 1000 schools worldwide and many more devloping suggests that some people must be happy (new schools developing in India, Thailand, Nepal, Islamic countries, Russia etc..). Also, check out the list of Waldorf alumni.. there are quite a few intelligent people on it and I’m pretty sure they’re not all brainwashed or damaged:
“Why don’t you distribute a questionnaire to parent bodies and ask them their views directly?? You could stand at the school’s gates.”
You see, that wouldn’t make sense… Obviously, I’d be interviewing people who are still at the school, not the people who have left in disgust. Is that what YOU did? That would be a pretty silly test wouldn’t it?
“Also, the fact that there are well over 1000 schools worldwide and many more devloping suggests that some people must be happy (new schools developing in India, Thailand, Nepal, Islamic countries, Russia etc..).”
Yes, Wikipedia is a great source for indications of Waldorf’s success. You know the articles are written by a Waldorf teacher, right?
” Also, check out the list of Waldorf alumni.. there are quite a few intelligent people on it and I’m pretty sure they’re not all brainwashed or damaged:
Actually, I’d encourage EVERYONE to look at the list. Just skim over it and see if your child is more likely to become a famous doctor or scientist… or a famous actor, singer or chef. Also, to get on the list, you just need to be related to someone famous. And then you list all the parents who have been duped by Waldorf advertising… what a precious list…
So… 1000 schools… and you’ve been at it for 100 years… and *that* is the best list you could come up with?
Obviously nothing will shift in Peter’s mind, so I see no point in these blogs. Even if your own kids loved a Steiner school you’d still find it problematic.
Dr Phil ,
Forgot to say you are really rude to Andre,wasn’t it obvious English isn’t his first language ?? Im dyslexic by the way so bear that in mind before you complain about the writing in my post.Some people for various reasons may have difficulties academically or using another language, it happens…
It took me a very long time to type this small answer. Steiner has strong views on special needs that I’m sure you are aware of though …
I hope you don’t mind me posting this on two of your blogs but I think its so important.
http://gregoireperra.wordpress.com/author/gperra/ The letter is on this blog by another ex teacher
To The Parents Desert Sky Community School and the Arizona State Board for
My name is Rachael Colley and I recently resigned from Desert Sky Community
School. I am writing to inform you of the reason for my untimely departure. I
resigned from my position as grade 3/4 teacher because I was unaware that I had
been employed by what is, in my opinion, a religious cult and cannot in good
conscience continue, despite my love of the children and my sincere desire to
give them the best education.
I love that Waldorf education has a rhythm, that there is a large block in the
morning for children to really get into the lesson and that true unstructured
play is encouraged. However,
I cannot work in a place where lighting candles at a staff meeting and
chanting a childs name (without the parents knowledge), as well as reading from
the “Calendar of the Soul” is done and is seen as normal, and even called a
I cannot work in a place where the children are told to walk on the outside of
the circle because the director is afraid they will “break the chalice”. Or
where children say verses (prayers) to “spirit”. I am a spiritual person, but it
should not be required of children in a publicly funded school. When this was
brought up to my superiors, I was told that they “cannot imagine how I think
religion is there”. Yet I was told that the chicken coop must be built in a
certain way because it, “brings the childrens souls to the earth”.
If you have not already looked up anthroposophy, please do. It underpins
everything that is said and done at Desert Sky. Understand that you will be lied
to, and some people at Desert Sky believe that they know more about your child
and what is best for him/her than you do. Many (parents) are referred to in
negative terms behind their backs, and your children are saying prayers with
words that they do not know the meaning of.
There are good people at Desert Sky, people who love your children and also
want the best for them. However, someone needed to stand up and be the voice of
what really happens and what is really expected. Sadly, that task seems to have
fallen onto me.
> To all of the families, especially those with children in grades three and
four I wish you all the best.
I really can’t believe that a Steiner trained teacher could turn up at a Steiner school and be shocked that candles are lit and a verse is said. It’s really beyond belief…
You understand what “charter” schools are right? They are publicly funded schools. That candles are being lit and verses (prayers) are being said in public school in the US at taxpayer’s expense is what’s really beyond belief.
Do they ever sing hymns, say prayers or recite the national anthem??
Do tax payers have to pay for that too? I also pay taxes for many things i don’t necessarily believe, we all do.
Dr Phil – do you understand that in the US: ‘teachers and other public school officials may not lead their classes in prayer, devotional readings from the Bible, or other religious activities’? (U.S. Department of Education).
The activities described by Rachael Colley, an elementary (I believe not Waldorf trained) teacher are clearly religious. The (publicly funded) school is described as ‘Waldorf inspired’ and Rachael was doubtless attracted to teaching there for the reasons she states: ‘rhythm, that there is a large block in the morning for children to really get into the lesson and that true unstructured play is encouraged.”. She was led to believe the school was something it is not – in reality it is, in her opinion, ‘a religious cult’.
Of course you will say something nasty about Ms Colley and how stupid she is and she should have looked at wikipedia and read the entire Rudolf Steiner library and after all, there is nothing esoteric about anthroposophy and anyway – if there is – Steiner was a great seer and we are not worthy: ‘only a few have the human capacity to access’ his great wisdom. Do you have that capacity? If not, how can you be sure that he was so very wise? Are you wise, Dr Phil?
There may well be Steiner schools in ‘India, Thailand, Nepal, Islamic countries, Russia etc..’ I’m not suggesting this is always the case but there are instances where communities will accept any kind of school with gratitude because education is so valuable. Groups like the Waldorf movement know this all too well.
As I’ve said before, there is lot in Steiner schooling that just makes sense.. working with rhythm, imagination, movement, mixed classes, narrative, speech, story, art.. many things that have been undermined or lost in the mainsteam. The philosophical framework and esoteric aspect.. anthroposophy.. is not taught to children nor does it detract from the common sense pedagogy that many educators, academics and politicians recognize. I can send you many academic papers on this, if you so wish, written from outside the Waldorf community. I have researched this in some detail.
“Do they ever sing hymns, say prayers”
NOOOOO…. This is the USA.
“or recite the national anthem??”
“Do tax payers have to pay for that too?”
Nationalism isn’t excluded from schools in the USA… religion IS.
“I also pay taxes for many things i don’t necessarily believe, we all do.”
So, you think people should pay taxes to ensure children can recite Steiner’s prayers? It isn’t a matter of not “believing” in this… it’s a matter of it being AGAINST THE LAW!
Dr Phil – are you suggesting that British state primaries do not employ ideas such as: ‘rhythm, imagination, movement, mixed classes, narrative, speech, story, art.. ‘
In my experience (I have a child in a state primary school, I have two older children who were in Steiner ed for a few years) the primary school day has a rhythm, the children are encouraged to use their imaginations, there’s movement and dance, stories – the children are entirely familiar with narrative. Primary school children experience lots of art – I don’t know of any schools where kids don’t paint and draw and make and design… why do you imagine this isn’t so?
Like most people I value education. I have various criticisms of various education systems, and like to see more student involvement in education than is common in many British schools. But one thing I do know – Steiner schools are not democratic. They are essentially dishonest. This is a very serious flaw.
‘The philosophical framework and esoteric aspect.. anthroposophy.. is not taught to children’ – that’s not true, Dr Phil. You all pay lip service to this idea, but we have seen the teaching materials. The teaching is not overt – it’s covert. The children are marinaded in anthroposophy. Otherwise for what reason is the pedagogy based so squarely on anthroposophy? Why is it there, Dr Phil?
Who are these ‘many educators, academics and politicians’ who in some way recognise this ‘common sense pedagogy’? And where are the (independent, non-anthroposophical) research papers backing up your claims?
Look at my recent blog to Peter and get yourself down the library.
Obviously Peter will say these articles are written by anthroposphical academics. None of these papers mention indoctrination or brainwashing, or the dangers of the esoteric, or damaged children, and i’m sure they’ve done their research. In fact, they say the opposite. So, why don’t you go and question each researcher about his or her research? There is very little negative academic-scientific research on Steiner education because it generally focuses on classroom practice, child well-being and learning methods, which benefit children. Most criticism comes from people who have an ideological problem with alternative philosophies. That will always be the case, as the nature of this blog site indicates.
“There is very little negative academic-scientific research on Steiner education because it generally focuses on classroom practice, child well-being and learning methods, which benefit children.”
Which criticism? The criticism conducted by Anthroposophists or people with ties to Waldorf education? REAL criticism comes from OUTSIDE the movement, not from within it.
Is this really a real letter? I can’t believe a teacher is surprised because teachers “speak” in negative terms about some students’ parents. Obviously, this person is not a real teacher or her hearing is impaired. In all the schools I’ve been you could always hear teachers slagging off, not just parents, but even students, behind their backs.
Lighting candles and saying prayers… well, I went to a Catholic school and nobody raised an eyebrow when we had to pray every morning and we had to go to mass every so often and when there was a play everybody, including visitors, had to attend the mass. I am sure many devoted teachers would have mentioned some of the students who needed help in their prayers, is that really a crime or immoral?
In churches lighting candles for loved ones is common practice.
I suppose this pretend teacher would have preferred to be working in a school where the teachers spent their free time in the staffroom stuffing their faces full of cakes and coffee, while discussing the lacking or not of their students’ intellect, which is what goes on in most mainstream schools….
“In all the schools I’ve been you could always hear teachers slagging off, not just parents, but even students, behind their backs.”
Seriously, you should get out more.
“In churches lighting candles for loved ones is common practice.”
You realize this teacher is also talking about a publicly funded school, right? How does the fact that Waldorf practices activities similar to those found in churches help your argument that this teacher was somehow not a real teacher, or mistaken about what she witnessed?
“As I’ve said before, there is lot in Steiner schooling that just makes sense.. working with rhythm, imagination, movement, mixed classes, narrative, speech, story, art.. many things that have been undermined or lost in the mainsteam.”
What main stream are you drinking from, Dr. Phil? ALL those things are part of mainstream education… every single one!
“The philosophical framework and esoteric aspect.. anthroposophy.. is not taught to children nor does it detract from the common sense pedagogy that many educators, academics and politicians recognize. ”
It is indeed taught to the children – just not as “Anthroposophy class”. The educator we are discussing absolutely believes it detracts from the education.
“I can send you many academic papers on this, if you so wish, written from outside the Waldorf community. I have researched this in some detail.”
Please do! I dare say, many of us have researched this in great detail. What we see is Waldorf pretending to align itself with accepted ideas. What we don’t see is WHY. For example, shutting off the TV sounds like a good idea to many people… it’s an idea that people have embraced. Waldorf claims to be on the forefront of such thinking… UNTIL you start looking into Waldorf only to discover their reasons (the influence of Ahriman in electronic and mechanical devices) are complete NONSENSE. Yet, when they talk about turning off the TV, there is NO mention of the reason behind it… only that there is some support in the mainstream.
Hopefully, you won’t try to bring weak examples of Waldorf ideas being accepted by mainstream educators when you present your material.
It’s generally a waste of time responding to people like yourself who have made up their minds without bothering to see for themselves. If you really believe that all these things are really worked with in mainsteam schools then you should be happy with that.
I leave this blog with some selected academic reading from outside the Steiner community and hope that one day you experience something of what actually goes on in a Steiner school rather than musing over a philosophy you obviously don’t agree with. Most of the following are empirically based, not just theoretical, and all are written by academics with therefore some intellectual and scientific rigour, but I guess you would rather overlook and ignore what the education actually does that benefits children:
Martin Ashley (2006): ‘Authority, anarchy and anachronism on the slopes of sustainability: steiner pedagogy and the development of mature judgement’ British Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2006
Martin Ashley (2006) ‘Can One teacher know enough to teach year 6 everything?’ same ref as above.
Armon (1997) ‘The Waldorf curriculum as a framework for moral education’ Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association
Ginsburgh (1982) jean Piaget and Rudolf Steiner: stages of child development and impications for pedagogy’ Teachers College Record 84 (2) 327-337
Golden (1997) ‘Narrative – the use of story in Waldorf education’ paper presented at AERA.
Hutchingson (1993) ‘Waldorf education as a program for gifted students’ Journal for the education of the gifted 16, (4).
Nielsen (2003) Rudolf Steiner’s pedagogy of imagination: a phenomenological case study’ Conference on imagination in education vancouver , July, 2003
Oberski (2006)’learning to think in steiner-waldorf schools’ Journal of cognitive education and psychology 5(3) 336-349
Ogletree (2000) ‘the creative thinking development of waldorf school students; a study’ in Trans Intelligence Magazine, 7, 2000
Rivers and Soutter (1996)’Bullying and the steiner school ethos’ School Psychology international, 17, 359-377
MacDermott (1996) ‘Waldorf education in an inner-city public school’
Urban Review, 28, 2, 119-140
Cox and Rowlands (2000) ‘The effect of three different educational approaches on children’s drawing ability: steiner, montessori and traditional’ british journal of educational psychology, 70, 485-503
Uhrmacher (1993) coming to know the world through waldorf education’ journal of curriculum and supervision, 9, 1, 87-104
Woods et al (1997) ‘Spritual values in education – lessons from steiner?’ Int. journal of children’s spirituality, 2, 2, 25-40
Woods et al (2005) Steiner schools in England, DfES Research report 645.
Wright (2011) Exploring the role of narrative and imagination in geography teaching’ Geographical Education, 11,64-71.
“It’s generally a waste of time responding to people like yourself who have made up their minds without bothering to see for themselves. If you really believe that all these things are really worked with in mainsteam schools then you should be happy with that.”
I AM. What do you think I haven’t bothered to see for myself? I worked for many MANY years within my kid’s Waldorf school, trying to get them to reform. I studied Anthroposophy in earnest for over a decade. My mind took a VERY LONG TIME to make up.
“I leave this blog with some selected academic reading from outside the Steiner community”
That would be refreshing… Ashley, Woods, Cox et al… I refer you to Margaret Sachs’ comment here: http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2011/11/10/students-learn-unplugged-at-los-altos-school/
1. The controversial “Steiner Schools in England” report is not a scientific or statistical study and has received a fair amount of criticism from outside the Anthroposophy/Waldorf world. It is a report written by people known for promoting education by religious and cultural movements that have no scientific or rational basis. Glenys Woods’ academic bio reveals her foundational interest as an educational researcher as “spiritual awareness” but omits her quack sideline as an angelic reiki healer. Martin Ashley’s bio states that it was his lasting interest in spirituality and identity that was instrumental in his being selected to research Steiner education with Philip Woods. So here you have Steiner education being researched by individuals whose primary interest appears to be in spiritual education. And even they manage to find fault with the many teachers who “are too dependent on following the guidance and ideas of Steiner as if they were ‘sacred’ directions.”
2. Bo Dahlin is an Anthroposophist who is a member of the curriculum committee at the Masters program at the Rudolf Steiner College in Oslo and is the external examiner of the Integrated Masters Programme in the Eurythmy Masters degree.
3. The Cox /Rowlands article appears to be the only example of an actual study. It’s a study, however, that is limited to comparing the drawing skills of a sample of 5-7 year olds. It does not relate to your statement “Do your own research, what are Waldorf graduates like? There are several research studies both in Europe and the USA.”
4. Ogletree is an Anthroposophist who received his Waldorf teacher training at Anthroposophy’s Emerson College in England and promotes the quackery known as therapeutic eurythmy.
5. Christine Hether is the parent of two Waldorf students and a member of the Board of Directors of the Haleakala Waldorf School in Hawaii. As such, she has a clear bias. She describes Joan Almon as an independent researcher doing a similar study when Almon is, in fact, an Anthroposophist. Hether states, “Moreover, Steiner’s epistemological conceptualization in some sense equates spiritual and moral; his definition of spiritual is inclusive of those qualities that lift us out of solitary egoism into community with other human beings and all aspects of our environment.” It sounds lovely, but she either ignores or does not know about some of the more despicable aspects of Steiner’s teachings, such as his racist theory that the darker a person’s skin the less spiritually evolved they are, his claim that some learning disabled children are demons in human form, and his cruel treatment of a child he brought onstage in a lecture to demonstrate to the audience the physiological characteristics of an inferior intelligence.”
Did Margaret forget anyone from your list?
‘It’s generally a waste of time responding to people like yourself who have made up their minds without bothering to see for themselves.’
But we did, Dr Phil. We did see for ourselves.
I ‘hope that one day you experience something of what actually goes on in a Steiner school rather than musing over a philosophy you obviously don’t agree with’
We’ve had that experience, Dr Phil, this is where your argument collapses. Actually I’ve a feeling Pete knows far more about Waldorf ed than you do. Consider yourself a novice.
Do Steiner schools really (and uniquely) benefit children? Or is it the adults, many of whom would find it difficult to work anywhere else, who stand to gain most from this fantastic edifice of nonsense?
Announcement: Andy Lewis to speak on this topic in Bristol.
Title: What every parent should know about Steiner Schools.
When: 19:45 Tuesday 19th March
Venue: Conference Room, Hamilton House, Stokes Croft, Bristol.
Cost: Free, donations to cover costs welcomed.
(Apologies for the ‘on-topic spam’)
Excuse me , I have been going to the Steiner academy for almost 2 years now and the education may be a little patchy in places but no one believes in rudolf steiners racist/homophobic and just downright offensive beliefs.the only thing people respect about him are the way he thought education should work,which really had nothing to do with his beliefs.i personally do not agree with this education type but as a “child” I didn’t have a choice wether I could go to this school or not.
So to the idiot who wrote this article please dont make judgments when u don’t even know what your talking about.
PS.we are not all part of some big Steiner cult.
How do you know no one believes in Steiner’s racist beliefs? It is an initiated cult – you are not going to be told – it will be kept hidden from you.
How can Steiner’s beliefs about education be separate from his wider beliefs? He believed education was about helping children’s souls incarnate into their bodies. How is your incarnation going or has no one discussed it with you?
If you do not agree with Steiner education then perhaps we are in agreement. Why in that case am I an idiot?