You will recall that the government in the UK has ordered emergency inspections into all UK Steiner Schools, whether they are private schools, Academies or Free Schools. This was prompted by appalling safeguarding failures at a number of these schools which suggest a common pattern inherent within the Steiner system.
Three of Michael Gove’s new Free Steiner Schools (Frome, Exeter and Bristol) have been deemed to be unable to correct their own failings and management is being transferred to a multi-academy trust. Frome was the first Free school to be set up after lobbying from the Rees-Mogg family.
Avanti Schools Trust runs state-funded Hindu schools. It sponsors a small number of Krishna Avanti Schools that seek to “awaken each person’s unique and loving relationship with Krishna”. There does appear to be a strong ethos of educational excellence – which may be a bigger threat to the Steiner approach than any faith-based aims.
There will now be a period of consultation before a full adoption takes place. The Steiner Schools themselves appear to be intent on maintaining the Anthroposophical nature of their schools. This is very likely to bring them into conflict with their new sponsors. Many have tried to make a modern form of Steiner education only ‘inspired’ by Rudolf Steiner. The anthroposophical oversight of these schools have ensured that this has never happened and instead each school maintains a strict adherence to anthroposophical principles, curriculum and management approaches.
Anthroposophy is an esoteric and initiated new religious movement founded by Rudolf Steiner. As such, his clairvoyant and mystical teachings are seen as the driving force behind Steiner Schools. Steiner’s philosophy grew out of the Theosophical quest to create a universal and ‘scientific’ knowledge of spirituality through a syncretic blend of Christian Gnosticism and Eastern religious traditions such as Hinduism.
As such, the new sponsors may find some common elements in Steiner Schools – if they are discussed. Steiner’s vision for schools were as a sort of centre for karmic and spiritual midwifery for the children’s souls as they reincarnated into their new bodies. Steiner Schools practice daily spiritual dance whereas Avanti encourage yoga and meditation.
But I suspect all may not be happy.
Steiner had very specific views about the Hindu religion and peoples.
Indeed, the very reason he split with the Theosophists and created his own Anthroposophy was because the Theosophists were embracing a young Indian man, Krishnamurti, as the new ‘World Teacher’ – and a reincarnation of Christ.
Steiner was having none of this. His views on karma and reincarnation were based on a spiritual racism. As you reincarnated you may ‘evolve through the races from the ‘lower races’ to the more spiritually advanced races. Naturally, he saw Aryans as the most advanced spiritual race and Indians as a dying and decadent.
As the historian of Steiner’s work, Peter Staudenmaier says,
While Steiner did hold that no living person could be the reincarnation of Christ, he did not leave the matter at that. He pointedly ridiculed the notion that this “Hindu lad,” as Steiner called Krishnamurti, could embody the Christ. According to Steiner, Hindus had long since played out their evolutionary function and were now leftovers of former spiritual grandeur, an anachronism trapped in decline. Krishnamurti was neither white, European, nor Christian, and thus failed Steiner’s test of adequacy for cosmic leadership. At the same time, according to reports from his theosophical associates, Steiner may have encouraged his own followers to think of Steiner himself as the new appearance of Christ.
Steiner’s teachings on spirituality and race are abhorrent,
His basic stance was straightforward enough: “One can only understand history and all of social life, including today’s social life, if one pays attention to people’s racial characteristics. And one can only understand all that is spiritual in the correct sense if one first examines how this spiritual element operates within people precisely through the color of their skin.”
Steiner claimed that it was the special destiny of the Germanic peoples to fulfil the “mission of white humanity” by integrating the spiritual and the physical, and that this integration of the physical and spiritual is what accounts for white skin. This integration has failed in non-white peoples, Steiner explained, referring specifically to “the Asian peoples.” In Asians and other non-whites, according to Steiner, the spirit “takes a demonic character and does not completely permeate the flesh, their white skin does not appear. Atavistic forces are present which do not let the spirit come into complete harmony with the flesh.
The irony of the Steiner Schools being saved by a Hindu organisation is obvious.
But do modern Anthroposophists still subscribe to such appalling views? That is a good question. And part of that answer must come through the recognition that it is an esoteric and initiated belief system. Not all those in the system will be aware or exposed to all his teachings. Not all will be fully initiated or bought in. In a Steiner School, there is no need to have fully paid up members everywhere. You just need people to follow the curriculum and the rules of governance – and not worry too much about what it all means. There will be some First Class Anthroposophists around though – the holders of blue cards – the highest initiates – who will be most concerned that the doctrines of Steiner are followed. The Schools will not be allowed to carry the Steiner name unless that adhere to the anthroposophical curriculum and governance – the very practices that ended up with all these schools being deemed inadequate in just about every dimension by Ofsted.
A clash is bound to follow. If the Avanti sponsors try to raise educational standards, that will be resisted (young children should not be taught to read), if more openness and transparency is required, this will be resisted by a culture of secrecy, lying and dishonesty. If better safeguarding is demanded, this will be countered by an ethos of improper relationships and staff who know no boundaries.
There would appear to be only two outcomes possible here: either Avanti purge the school of anthroposopy and anthroposophists, or they walk away. Will the parents allow Avanti to drastically change the school approach? They joined the Steiner movement precisely because it did not push children academically, it favoured play and art, and had few apparent rules. If Avanti walk away, then who will sponsor the schools? (I have heard one report of a prospective sponsor declining to take on the school due to the inability for the school accounts to be signed off.)
Once again, I can only conclude that there has been a lot of naivety in the understanding of the Steiner school movement. Whatever happens, children are likely to be the ones who suffer the most.