Should the state be funding schools which were founded by a racist mystic?
The news that there are 25 Steiner schools seeking to be funded as “free schools” and that there is already one which has state funds should be deeply troubling for most right-minded people. Steiner schools have the reputation in this country for being rather progressive, liberal schools with some quirky ideas, but basically perfect for children who aren’t happy with more “traditional” schools.
I wonder how many parents would want to send their children to these schools if they knew about their founder’s views on an array of issues. Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925) was a mystic who denied scientific evolution, believed passionately in Jesus Christ, but also believed in “karma” and “re-incarnation”. He attempted to synthesize “spirituality” with “science”. Some of his ideas about children having an artistic, creative education tie in with other thinkers such as Maria Montessori and John Dewey, but, in many ways, his views are very divergent from theirs. For example, he had strange attitudes towards pupils with Special Needs, claiming that their disabilities were due to “bad karma”.
Most worryingly of all, he was deeply racist in his views. In particular for arcane reasons, he believed that Asian people were “decadent” and black people had the characteristics of “childhood”. Moreover, Native Americans were a “degenerated human race” and the Mongols were a “lower class of people”. Surprise, surprise white skinned people were classed by Steiner as being the best, with Jesus Christ at the top of the Steiner evolutionary tree. It’s very disturbing to learn that Steiner and his “true” followers see the purpose of education to enable children to “evolve” from their “bad karma” by carrying out the exercises that Steiner saw as crucial for his form of “evolution” to happen.
The powerful people running Waldorf-Steiner schools today claim that these views do not influence the education that happens there and only Steiner’s more “enlightened” ideas inform the pedagogical approach, but this is, quite frankly, ducking the issue. (BTW: they have been very diligent about monitoring the internet so that Steiner and his schools are presented positively: much information you find by Googling him will not be reliable as a result.) The fact is that these schools have moulded their whole educational philosophy around a very strange man who was a profound racist. It’s a bit like saying it’s fine to have “Adolf Hitler” schools because we’ve ignored his nasty ideas and cherry-picked the “nice” ideas he had! Reading the minutes of a meeting some Steiner followers had with government advisors Sam Freedman and Rachel Wolf, of the New Schools Network, it’s clear that the government has its doubts about Steiner schools. Freedman says at one point during the meeting: “I’ve had all sorts of people writing to me just because they found out that I was coming to this meeting. Attacking. Attacking the Steiner Schools… Anonymously. Through social networking. People find out who you are, find out your account number and bombard you with articles, negative articles… This was pointing out all the things they think are wrong with Steiner movement, link after link after link. And that’s just from me coming to this meeting, so you have to be aware, well I know you’ll all be aware anyway, but this will be on a much, much bigger scale.”
However, it’s clear despite these concerns that the government, desperate to boost the number of free schools, is determined to give these schools state funds. The LSN has seen correspondence between a concerned parent and the Department for Education in which the DfE claims that the schools are not racist in their attitudes. I am sure this is true, but it still doesn’t get away from the fact that many parents of non-white backgrounds might be very uneasy about sending their children to schools if they knew they were founded by a man who viewed non-white races as “lower on the evolutionary scale”. Furthermore, there are obviously some other Steiner beliefs that persist in today’s schools which, while they are not against the law, are very dubious. For example, there is a belief amongst some Steiner followers that Special Needs is caused by bad karma; in other words, Steiner believers could be viewing children with SEN as having “wicked” and “degenerate” past lives.
I have observed a Steiner school in action and was dismayed by what I saw: untrained teachers delivering lectures about the “holism” of knowledge that went far over the children’s heads. Their talk was peppered, as you might expect, with lots of mystical nonsense. Furthermore, I felt the system of having one teacher for many years was counter-productive for many children who could have benefited from a different approach.
While I have no problem with schools learning from successful artistic ideas in Steiner schools, it’s sending all the wrong messages for the taxpayer to fund schools with such a dodgy guru at their heart.
Steiner schools have been very successful in gaining state funding in the US, Canada, Australia and are clearly seeking to gain a major foothold in this country. The LSN already has evidence that some great local state schools are very worried because Steiner schools are confident of becoming “free schools” in the near future in their vicinity, sucking away vital pupils and resources. These are schools which are just as “artistic” and “enlightened” as Steiner schools, but don’t pay homage to a deeply troubling philosophy.
These are the schools are either seeking “free school” status or maybe in the future:
Beechtree Steiner initiative, Leeds
Brighton Steiner School
Cambridge Steiner School
Elmfield Steiner School
Exeter Steiner School
Frome Steiner School
Full Fledge Ecology Steiner School, Suffolk
Hebden Bridge Steiner School, Yorkshire
Iona Steiner School, Nottingham
Kings Langley Steiner School
Lancaster Steiner School
Leicester Steiner School
Lincoln Steiner Initiative
Meadow Steiner School, Bruton, Somerset
Michael House Steiner School, Derbyshire
Monkton Wyld Steiner School, Dorset
Mulberry Tree Steiner School, Gloucestershire
Norwich Steiner School
Oxfordshire Steiner Waldorf Initiative
South Devon Steiner School
St Michael Steiner School, London
St Pauls Steiner School, Islington
Waldorf School of South West London
York Steiner School
Zelda Steiner School, Gweek, Cornwall