Category Archives: Waldorf critics

Difficult days for Steiner Waldorf schools in England

These are dark and difficult times for Steiner Waldorf schools in England, so much so in fact that I fear for their survival.

I refer to England, rather than the rest of the UK, because it is the Department for Education (DfE) in England that oversees Ofsted which is responsible for inspecting a range of educational institutions, including state schools and some independent schools within England, and which is currently concentrating its efforts on giving Steiner schools as hard a time as possible. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the situation is different and the Ofsted equivalents in those countries do not appear to have it as their mission to close down Steiner schools.

It was of course the disastrous failings at the now-closed Kings Langley school that provided the main impetus for this campaign against Steiner schools. As Tom Hart Shea, a former head teacher who commented on my “Death of a Steiner school” post observed, “I fear the knock-on effects of this saga for other Steiner Schools. By this I mean it would be irresponsible for the DfE not to look for similar failings in other College-run Steiner Schools”.

So it has proved, except that Ofsted is not just inspecting the independent Steiner schools to within an inch of their lives but is also coming down very heavily on the state-funded Steiner academy schools.

The Kings Langley failures led to a wide range of highly critical articles about Steiner education in the national media. On 24th June 2018, the Daily Telegraph published an article with the headline: “ ‘Rotten to the core’ flagship Steiner school to close, as it emerges concerned parents were sent gagging letters”. The article, by the newspaper’s education editor, Camilla Turner, went on to say:

“A flagship Steiner school is to close amid fears over child safety, after it emerged that parents who tried to raise the alarm about safeguarding lapses had been sent gagging letters.

The Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley (RSSKL) has told parents that it will shut down at the end of this term, following a string of damning Ofsted reports.

Steiner schools, which are favoured by liberally-minded middle-class parents, base their curriculum – which emphasises creativity and imagination – on the spiritual philosophy of Rudolf Steiner.

Parents have accused the school of attempting to “cover up” the full extent of its failings by trying to intimidate those who sought to voice their unease about the goings-on at the school”.

Camilla Turner returned to the theme in another Telegraph article on 20th October 2018, this time with the Steiner Academy Exeter in her sights:

“Ministers have been urged to order fresh inspections of all the Steiner schools in the country, as a second school is threatened with closure amid ‘serious’ concerns about child safety.

The Steiner Academy Exeter was warned by the government this week that it could have its funding cut off, after Ofsted discovered severe safeguarding and governance lapses.

Following the inspection, the regional schools’ commissioner took the unusual step of instructing it to close immediately while the issues were addressed, so it can ensure a ‘safe environment’ for its pupils. It re-opened a week later”.

On 6thDecember 2018, Sally Weale, an education correspondent for The Guardian, also wrote about the Steiner Academy Exeter under the headline:

“ ‘Inadequate’ Steiner school to be taken over by academy chain”.  She went on to report:

“A state-funded Steiner school in Devon is to be transferred to a multi-academy trust after the schools watchdog said it was inadequate.

Ofsted inspectors raised serious concerns about safeguarding and lack of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) at the Steiner Academy Exeter, which opened in September 2013.

The academy is one of a small number of Steiner schools set up as a result of the government’s controversial free school policy and paid for by public funds. Other Steiner schools in the UK are privately funded”.

Sally Weale followed this up with another Guardian article on 17th January 2019:

“The future of state-funded Steiner education has been thrown into doubt after a series of snap Ofsted inspections found that three of the four such schools set up under the Conservatives’ free schools programme were inadequate.

The four have been inspected in recent weeks – alongside private Steiner schools, a number of which have also been found to be inadequate – following an intervention by the education secretary, Damian Hinds, over concerns about safeguarding.

Ofsted reports for the Frome and Bristol Steiner academies are due to be published later this week and have been shared with parents. Copies seen by The Guardian reveal inspectors’ concerns about a wide range of issues including safeguarding, bullying and lack of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

The Frome report accuses leaders and governors of failing to provide pupils with a safe and effective education, due to a lack of understanding about the current statutory requirements”.

Humanists UK, which has for some years been campaigning against Steiner schools, tried to claim the credit for Ofsted’s actions:

“Humanists UK is calling for the urgent closure of three Steiner schools which were rated inadequate by the education inspectorate Ofsted after the schools failed to prove they could keep pupils safe. The inspections are the culmination of a long-running campaign by Humanists UK to expose the dangers of the Steiner school sector. (…)

Humanists UK has long standing concerns about Steiner schools and has consistently campaigned against state funding for these institutions. In 2014 it won an Information Tribunal case against the government, forcing it to publicly release briefings about serious problems with Steiner schools including the bullying of students and teaching racism.

Other concerns raised by Humanists UK included the presence of pseudoscience on the curriculum (including scepticism of evolution and vaccinations and support for homeopathy), homeopathy being given to pupils by the schools’ ‘anthroposophical doctors’, and the fact that a number of private and at least one state Steiner school have opted out of providing vaccinations.

 The Guardian also reports that the School Inspection Service (SIS), which Humanists UK has long campaigned to see shut down on the basis of concerns about its efficacy, has now been closed. Ofsted has hitherto not inspected Steiner schools routinely as that has been the SIS’s responsibility. The SIS was set up by the Exclusive Brethren and also inspects Brethren schools, and Humanists UK had concerns about the quality and impartiality of its inspections. Humanists UK is seeking to clarify its reported closure with Ofsted”.

It is ironic, to say the least, that Humanists UK have been so keen to close down schools offering a thoroughly humanistic (though not atheistic) education. But their last point about the closure of the School Inspection Service (SIS) appears to be true, although I can find no mention of it on the SIS website.  I am sad about this closure, because as I wrote in my Death of a Steiner school post, the ex-HMIs (Her Majesty’s Inspectors) of SIS were the best inspectors I have come across. They were headed up by Jane Cooper, who was formerly a highly respected Principal Inspector for Ofsted. SIS also inspected the Cognita Schools group, which was set up by the late Chris Woodhead, himself a former Chief Inspector of Ofsted. So I think we can be quite certain that SIS really knew their business. As I suspected, it seems likely that they have become the victims of a turf war with Ofsted.

The Guardian returned to the attack on 18th January with an article by their columnist Zoe Williams, headed: “These Steiner ‘failures’ are really a failure of the free school agenda”.  Ms Williams had spotted an opportunity to have a go at the former Education Secretary, Michael Gove, who had been responsible for a huge expansion of the government’s free schools programme, under which four publicly-funded Steiner academies had been created:

“Ofsted inspectors have found three of the UK’s four Steiner state schools “inadequate”, in reports that will be published this week. Their core concerns are believed to be safeguarding, bullying and a lack of support for children with special educational needs. A number of private Steiner schools have also been deemed inadequate.

In a brilliant primer written in 2014, when free schools were still a jewel in the crown of the coalition government, the BBC journalist Chris Cook described the core controversies that might be thrown up by Steiner schools. At that point, and to this day, these are mainly private schools. In a way, the handful that opened on the state’s dollar were the apotheosis of Michael Gove’s promise to parents: if you want to replicate a private education, even at its very wackiest, and you have the energy, you have our blessing.

The headline contention was the very pronounced racism of Rudolf Steiner, who thought black people lived an “instinctual life”, and white people an “intellectual life”. Somehow, though, this was passed over rather mildly as an unfortunate tang of times past, nothing to do with his educational writing, according to the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) – just as a pro-choice campaigner today might shrug off the hardcore eugenicism of Marie Stopes.

Yet the two are not analogous, since Steiner’s white supremacism is a thread running through the rest of the creed, a mulch of reincarnation and homeopathy. One piquant detail of the BBC’s investigation was that four white teachers at a private school, on a diversity training day, when asked their ethnicity, “ticked every box” on the basis that they had only ended up white having passed through every inferior race in their reincarnation journey”.

Ah yes, racism and white supremacism. It is impossible to have any kind of public discussion about Steiner Waldorf education without these accusations being thrown at the schools, however much the schools may emphasise that they do not agree with Steiner’s racial theories. Here, for example, is a statement from the website of the Steiner Academy Hereford:

“Steiner Education is opposed to all forms of discrimination against any person or group of people on the grounds of race, gender, faith, disability, age and sexual orientation and is committed to promoting equality of opportunity and reflecting the diversity of the children, staff and parents served by Steiner schools.  The following is taken from Steiner’s book, “The Universal Human”.

‘ … the anthroposophical movement [ . . .], must cast aside the division into races. It must seek to unite people of all races and nations, and to bridge the divisions and differences between various groups of people. The old point of view of race has a physical character, but what will prevail in the future will have a more spiritual character.’

Nevertheless, even though Steiner’s ideas are based on a profound respect for the equality, individuality and shared humanity of all people, regardless of race or ethnic origin, his works do contain a number of statements on race that are inappropriate in a modern context.

Steiner education thrives on every continent, in every culture and within a wide range of ethnic contexts. For example, during the period of the apartheid regime in South Africa, the only school catering for mixed races was a Steiner Waldorf school and today there are schools following Steiner’s indications on education in diverse cultures and communities, including: Israel, Egypt, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Taiwan, Japan, Brazil or Hawaii, over 60 countries in all”.

Schools can say this sort of thing until they are blue in the face but it will make no difference to the critics, who have found the accusations of racism provide an excellent stick with which to beat the schools out of existence.

Zoe Williams’ article produced a backlash from parents and supporters of Steiner schools in The Guardian’s Schools’ section letters page, including this rather clumsy defence from a governor of the Steiner Academy Bristol:

“I am dismayed by Zoe Williams’ caricature of Steiner education and her willingness to cite state-funded Steiner schools as an argument against free schools. Her description is based entirely on a piece written by Chris Cook in 2014, who conceded he had not looked at state-funded Steiner academies. He concentrated on the esoteric spiritual science of anthroposophy. But this has no place in the Steiner Academy Bristol. We teach all major world religions (certainly not anthroposophy!).

As for Steiner’s ugly racism, we completely dissociate ourselves from such attitudes. Ours is a multi-ethnic, multi-religion school with a sharply focused curriculum that seeks to develop the head, the heart and the soul in a rounded way. Where we do think Steiner was right was in recognising the need for age-appropriate learning that develops the whole child”.

One conclusion I drew in my Death of a Steiner school post appears to have been wrong. When I said that “my main hope for the future of Steiner Waldorf education in the UK now resides with the publicly-funded Steiner academy schools at Hereford, Exeter, Frome and Bristol”, I was reckoning without the zeal of Ofsted’s witchfinders. I said that “because the Steiner academy schools receive public funding, they are held much more accountable by government – but because they are now part of the maintained sector, they are seen as a valid part of the pluralistic education system in England in a way that the independent schools never managed to achieve. Not the least of RSSKL’s disasters is that it makes it far less likely that any government will wish to allow any more publicly-funded Steiner academy schools to be created”.

Well, that last sentence is certainly correct. But I had not expected that three out of the four publicly-funded Steiner academy schools would have received such bad Ofsted reports. The Steiner Academy Exeter was forced to close for a week and has now been taken over by a multi-academy trust (MAT) and the principal, the highly respected Alan Swindell, has left the school and twelve trustees have resigned. This is very likely to mean that Steiner Waldorf education in Exeter will now be in name only. The Steiner Academy Frome, after previous ‘Good’ verdicts from Ofsted, has now been rated ‘Inadequate’ in every single area of inspection and the principal, the excellent Trevor Mepham, has left the school. The Steiner Academy Bristol has also received a damning Ofsted report, which has provoked the school into planning to take Ofsted to court after it was, like Frome, rated as ‘Inadequate’ under each area of inspection and consequently was put into ‘special measures’.

A similar reign of terror is being visited on the independent Steiner schools, with several which had previously been rated as ‘Good’ or even ‘Outstanding’, hurriedly being inspected and told that they are ‘Inadequate’.

What is going on?  I suspect that something like the following has happened: a celebrity parent at Kings Langley wrote to the DfE, along with about 30 other parents, to complain about the school’s inadequate handling of their complaints about safeguarding. The celebrity parent’s letter will have been put onto the desk of the Education Minister, Damian Hinds, together with a dossier of hostile press cuttings about Steiner Waldorf education. Hinds will have said to his permanent secretary: “Get Spielman on the line (Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector) and tell her to put some stick about with these weird Steiner bastards. Make sure she closes down a few of their schools pour encourager les autres. And make sure I don’t get any more letters like this on my desk.”

Now some people may say: What is the problem here? All the schools need to do is to adhere to Ofsted guidelines, particularly on safeguarding, and they will be passed as ‘Good’ or even ‘Outstanding’. Schools need to be more professional in their approach and they need to get this right.

What this ignores, however, is the probability that the schools are now being faced with a highly politicised war of attrition in which the government is determined to close down some Steiner schools so as to avoid embarrassing headlines in the future. In the past, when schools were under the control of local education authorities, Secretaries of State for Education could blame the town halls and civic centres for any lapses in school standards. As Zoe Williams has noticed, the free schools programme means that the responsibility for school failures now ends up on the desk of the Minister.

And now there’s a truly chilling development from Ofsted: Steiner Waldorf education is now to be accused of thought crimes. Amanda Spielman was reported in Schools Week as having written to Damian Hinds, the education secretary, on Thursday after snap inspections of nine Steiner schools – state and private – found six were “inadequate” and three “requires improvement”. Spielman wrote that senior leaders at one school “blamed pupils with SEND for all the problems”, while others witnessed “inappropriate physical handling” of pupils. Some parents who complained were “intimidated”. Spielman has now demanded an investigation into whether the Steiner philosophy is contributing to the failures.

Apart from the aftermath of the Kings Langley closure, why are Steiner schools in such a pickle at the moment? These days I’m pretty much removed from the whole business, since I left Kings Langley in 2014, but my feeling is that the Steiner schools’ movement in the UK, because of its historical allegiance to schools self-administering through a College of Teachers, has not been able to develop a cadre of school leaders able to cope with the latter-day demands of Ofsted and particularly the Safeguarding aspect of school regulation. How many of them will come through this period unscathed I can’t say – but I’m glad my own daughter was able to have a Steiner education, at a time when History of Art was still available as an A-level (Gove removed this as a subject). It has stood her very well in her subsequent university and career path and I hope that, despite the current Ofsted reign of terror, other children will also be able to benefit from Steiner Waldorf education for many years to come.

Critics who laud Ofsted for moving against Steiner schools should be careful of what they wish for. The main beneficiaries of this confected angst about Steiner schools and safeguarding are the manufacturers and sellers of 6’ high perimeter fencing materials, in which schools are forced by Ofsted to turn their schools into fortresses against the world. What children learn from this is that the world is a dangerous place and adults are scary people, not to be trusted. It also leads to the absurd and offensive situation in which kindergarten parents wanting to collect their child from school have to sign in at the school office, wear a lanyard, be escorted across the grounds by a member of staff to the kindergarten and then be escorted back to the school office where they have to sign out and return their lanyard. If that’s the kind of school that Humanists UK are agitating for, then all I can say is that it’s not my idea of a humane or humanist education.

As I’m an unashamed and unabashed anthroposophist, and despite any embarrassment this might cause to school governors wishing to repudiate everything about Steiner except his educational teachings, I will finish with a quotation from Rudolf Steiner which I commend to all Steiner school teachers who are seeing their best efforts crumbling to dust at the moment:

“However good the right may be that you want to bring to realisation – it will turn into a wrong in the course of time. Benevolence will after a time become prejudicial behaviour. And however good the right may be that you want to bring to realisation — it will turn into a wrong in the course of time. The reality is that there are no absolutes in this world. You work towards something that is good, and the way of the world will turn it into something bad. We therefore must seek ever new ways, look for new forms over and over again. This is what really matters.

The swing of the pendulum governs all such human efforts. Nothing is more harmful than belief in absolute ideals, for they are at odds with the true course of world evolution.  (…)

It is (Ahriman) who will and must be the bearer of our future civilisation. This is a harsh truth, but it is important. It is intimately bound up with the fact that destructive powers will have to enter into the future progress of civilisation. Above all — (…) — destructive powers will have to enter into the whole field of education, and especially the education of children, unless the matter is taken in hand with wisdom. Because of the general trend of civilisation, and the customary practices and emotions of people, destructive powers will also enter more and more into the whole social sphere. They will above all bring more and more destruction into the actual relationships between people”.

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Filed under Ahriman, Free Schools, Humanism, Kings Langley, Ofsted, Steiner Waldorf schools, Waldorf critics

Anthroposophy and the Twilight of Culture

A regular correspondent to this blog, Steve Hale from the USA, has forwarded to me an article which appeared in the British communist daily newspaper, the Morning Star, on December 7th 2017. The article, under the byline of one Peter Frost, highlights events at the Rudolf Steiner School, Kings Langley (RSSKL), which has been threatened with de-registration by Ofsted.

Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) is the non-ministerial government department in England which inspects and regulates schools, including independent schools. The de-registration of a school is a serious matter, because it means in effect that it is no longer lawful to run that school. RSSKL is currently appealing against the de-registration verdict of Ofsted, citing the drastic changes it has put in place to deal with the shortcomings identified by the Ofsted inspectors. The final verdict is not yet in but we shall no doubt hear before too long as to whether the school has done enough to cause Ofsted to withdraw its de-registration order.

I worked at RSSKL up until 2014 and know some of the people concerned. I don’t wish to add any comment about that school’s particular difficulties, except that I very much hope they can turn the situation around. They have strong support from their parent and pupil bodies, which should stand them in good stead if the school is able to get past this immediate crisis. But the RSSKL problems, although in an extreme form, are emblematic of the problems that many other anthroposophical institutions are experiencing nowadays. Let us quote Peter Selg here:

“…it is quite obvious that most of the anthroposophic institutions (…) including Waldorf schools and curative education homes, and also individual clinics and one anthroposophic medicine producer, are currently facing existential crises. And these crises are not primarily or exclusively financial in nature, but concern their spiritual substance and inner identity, their spirit and what they see as their task; that is, their unique contribution to our culture. Many anthroposophic institutions have hardly any anthroposophists left working in them any longer, or even people who have a real interest in anthroposophy, or who work on the basis of the anthroposophic understanding of the human being. It cannot be ignored that many places have only retained the name that bears such promise, without being able or wanting to honour the expectations associated with it – a situation that leads to the misrepresentation of facts, and in reality damages the standing of anthroposophy.” 1

To return to the Morning Star article, the author lists not only Waldorf education but all the other topics employed by critics to attack Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy. There is nothing original in what he says but I encourage you to read the article for yourself, so as to get the full flavour.

There are all sorts of comments one could make about this. Frost gets some of the details wrong, and I would bet that he has never actually read any Steiner for himself, relying instead on the extensive online criticism of Steiner and Waldorf for the main thrust of his attack. One might add that communists have never liked Steiner, right from the time when he was lecturing to the workers at the Berlin Workers’ School and refused to amend his lectures to suit the party line. Indeed, Steiner was very scathing about both Lenin and Trotsky, whom he described as “the gravediggers of modern civilisation, of whom it may be said that, if their rule continues too long, even in a few places, it will signify the death of modern civilisation and must of necessity lead to the destruction of all the attainments of modern civilisation.” 2 Steiner was of course equally scathing about the Nazis.

But in a way, all this is beside the point. The critics hurl their accusations and the anthroposophists, on the whole, do nothing about it. Thus the critics make all the running in the online debate, and so it is their views which largely influence public perceptions of Steiner, Waldorf and anthroposophy. The critics just need to say: Steiner was a racist, then add in an apparently outrageous quotation and that’s it; job done. Any anthroposophists who wish to put an alternative perspective then need to write reams of explanation and justification, setting the context and making their involved and detailed case, but they are in fact just wasting their time – the simpler one-line message of the critics is what achieves cut-through with the public, who will never have read any of Steiner before and certainly don’t intend to start reading wordy justifications from anthroposophists now. No, they’ve got the message – Steiner was a racist. If they know nothing else about Steiner, this is what they know.

But of course they actually know nothing about Steiner, or about anthroposophy, or the true nature of what it means to be a human being. Does this matter? Does it matter if the adversarial powers have it all their own way and can convince most people that physical, material existence is the only reality?

I used to think that it mattered. It used to upset me greatly that Steiner is so traduced and willfully misunderstood. It also upsets me that certain schools, through weakness and sheer mismanagement, give the critics such ammunition to attack Steiner and Waldorf. But, sadly, it is futile to look to Dornach or the national anthroposophical societies to respond, or to make any effort whatsoever to defend Steiner. I know – I’ve tried. After meetings with some members of the Vorstand and several European general secretaries, in London, Vienna and Dornach, it’s clear that nothing of substance is going to be done. (I except the British general secretary, Marjatta van Boeschoten, from this criticism, because she and I tried very hard to make the case for Dornach to create a media unit for the purpose, among other things, of presenting an alternative view to that of the critics.)

This experience with Dornach made me remember something that Steiner said, (the source of which, annoyingly, I can’t now find), ie that in his next incarnation he may find himself having to work against the Anthroposophical Society. One recognises the good things that the Society does, but defence of Steiner and anthroposophy should be part of their core purpose, and at present it doesn’t appear to be a priority.

The late Sergei Prokofieff made the point: “When anthroposophists encounter (…) these lies – many of which (…) have become common worldwide – and do not stand up against them with courage and decisiveness, then, whether they wish to or not, these anthroposophists work together with the opponents towards the destruction of anthroposophy. (…) ‘If (…) in response to the opposition nothing is done, then the mission of anthroposophy will fail’, said Rudolf Steiner. And if, especially at the Goetheanum in Dornach, not enough is done in this direction, then the process of annihilation and disintegration will be yet further accelerated.” 3

As I say, I used to think it mattered. Nowadays, I’m not only tired of the laissez-faire attitude of many anthroposophists to the critics but I’m also weary of futile arguments with Steiner’s opponents. But even so, I can’t resist one little sally: in Peter Frost’s article, he accuses Steiner of “weird ideas about almost everything (…) even the lost continent of Atlantis.”

Well, yes, Peter, I’m sure many of Steiner’s ideas do sound weird within the newsroom of the Morning Star, and also within many other contemporary citadels of culture – but that doesn’t mean that he was wrong. Steiner as an initiate and highly developed clairvoyant was able to research these matters and in a lecture given on March 7th 1909 in Munich, he spoke extensively of what he had discovered. You can read the whole lecture for yourself, but what I would like to focus on here is the comparison Steiner draws between the Atlantean catastrophe and our situation today.

When it became clear that the submergence of Atlantis was unavoidable, a person Steiner calls the Initiate of the Sun Oracle sent out a call to gather together a group of Atlanteans who would survive the cataclysm and gradually establish the post-Atlantean cultures, ie the ancient Indian, Persian, Egypto-Babylonian-Hebraic and Graeco-Roman cultures. But Steiner says that the leader assembled the most simple and despised people in Atlantis, because those who were then at the highest level of cultural life were not suitable material to be led through and beyond the great Atlantean catastrophe. And here is what is really interesting and relevant for our present-day situation:

“(…) a similar call is once again going out to humanity. To be sure, this appeal is what is appropriate for today, a time when humanity sees only what is in the physical world. (…) As with Atlantis, a catastrophe will occur, and afterwards a new culture imbued with spiritual capacities will arise, and it will be linked to what we call the idea of the universal brotherhood of humanity.

But today, as in Atlantean times, the call cannot go out to those who stand at the highest levels of cultural life because they will not understand. The Atlantean clairvoyants and magicians, who were in a way destined to die out with their culture, occupied a position similar to that of people in contemporary life who occupy the highest positions in the realms of scholarship and external industrial life – the great inventors and discoverers of our time. No matter how much the present leaders feel there is still to be done, they nevertheless occupy the same position as their Atlantean counterparts. Contemptuously they look down on those who are beginning to feel something of the spiritual life to come. (…) When leading representatives of modern culture look contemptuously down at these small circles, those who are participating diligently in the preparation of future conditions must say to themselves that the intellectual giants of today cannot be counted on to lead the way in this task. It is precisely the people who are held in contempt because they are not considered to have reached the heights of contemporary erudtion who are being assembled today, just as the leader of the Sun Oracle once gathered around him the simple people of Atlantis. These disdained people are being assembled to prepare the dawn of a new culture whereas erudition of the modern form will bring about the twilight of our culture. This is mentioned in passing to fortify those who have to endure and hold their own against the attacks of the people who consider themselves to be on the cutting edge of contemporary culture.”

And actually, I’m not surprised that so many people find all of this outlandish, bizarre and beyond anything they wish to engage with. That’s because they are so caught up in materialism, that it is impossible for them to understand how human beings can and must free themselves in future from this confinement in the corporeal. It’s because they are imprisoned within their sense-bound thinking and cannot conceive of the possibility that within themselves they possess inner organs that will at a future time perceive the psychic and spiritual within nature and within the human being. So – until you are able to wake up – mock on, good people, while unbeknown to you the shoots of the new culture are quietly sprouting all around you.

 

1 From the foreword to “Rudolf Steiner’s Intentions for the Anthroposophical Society” by Peter Selg, published by Steiner Books (2011). ISBN: 978-0-88010-738-9

2 from Lecture 1 of the series “The Social Future”, given in Zurich in October 1919.

 3 from page 102 of “Crisis in the Anthroposophical Society” by Sergei O. Prokofieff and Peter Selg, published by Temple Lodge (2013). ISBN: 978 1 906999 43 8

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Filed under Critics, Dornach, Morning Star, RSSKL, Waldorf critics

But will you wake, for pity’s sake?

At a time of life when most people might expect to have retired and be putting their feet up, the anthropopper (who doesn’t think that retirement is good for people), counts himself fortunate to have not one, but two part-time jobs. Despite a colleague’s cynical observation that there is no such thing as a part-time job, only part-time wages, I love both these jobs and after a long and sometimes frustrating working life, I’m delighted to have work where I feel I’m making a worthwhile contribution, in organisations that are offering hope and practical solutions for some of the world’s problems.

The first of these jobs is at Tablehurst Community Farm in Forest Row, East Sussex. While I was there the other day, I found myself having a sudden flashback to an emotion I recognised – it was how I had sometimes felt when I was a small boy at primary school in the 1950s. It came and went in seconds but I was intrigued as to why I had had this sudden recall of something from my early schooldays, now well over half a century ago. What had made me remember this feeling from so long ago, seemingly out of the blue? Trying to analyse my state of mind at that moment, I realised that I had a feeling of wellbeing, knowing I was in the right place for me and glad to be working on a community-owned farm in which the land, plants and animals are cared-for and where the people are friendly, supportive and look out for one another. I was, in fact, in a situation that I suspect is hardly ever experienced in most workplaces these days. This then led me to the further realisation that, if how I was feeling that day was reminiscent of how I had felt during my early schooldays, then there must have been something warm and secure and nurturing about my primary school and the way in which the teachers and pupils treated one another back then. This was not a Steiner school, it was an ordinary state primary school in the 1950s, long before the days of Ofsted, SATS, league tables etc. Somehow I grew up with the notion that the world was on the whole a safe and welcoming place, that adults and policemen were mainly benign, there was joy and beauty in nature – and I also had a sense of how to behave and how not to behave. This gave me something to rebel against when I was a teenager in the 60s. My generation was lucky to have had these positive experiences, as recent alarming reports indicate that many schoolchildren today have quite a different experience of school.

An international study by the Children’s Society in 2015 found that English children are among the unhappiest in the world. Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said: “It is deeply worrying that children in this country are so unhappy at school compared to other countries, and it is truly shocking that thousands of children are being physically and emotionally bullied, damaging their happiness. School should be a safe haven, not a battleground.”

And now in a report dated 9th March 2016, the online Spectator magazine’s Health section has said that: “There has been a large increase in the number of British children prescribed anti-depressants, according to research published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology. The research, led by Dr Christian Bachmann of Berlin’s Charité University Hospital, found that prescription rates increased by 54 per cent between 2005 and 2012. In Denmark the figure is higher still, at 60 per cent.”

What on earth is going on? Clearly, something very disturbing is happening with our young people. Rudolf Steiner, in a lecture given in Berlin in 1919, said:

“What the individual human being experiences consciously when he (sic) strives to attain clairvoyance in the spiritual world, namely, the crossing of the threshold, must be experienced unconsciously by the whole of mankind, during our fifth post-Atlantean epoch. Humanity has no choice in regard to this; it must experience this unconsciously — not the individual human being, but HUMANITY, and the individual human being together with humanity.”

So are our young people starting to experience this crossing of the threshold between the physical and spiritual worlds, but unconsciously, without preparation? And if so, what part of the spiritual world are they accessing?

My second part-time job is with Emerson College in Forest Row, East Sussex, where I organise a programme of public talks and workshops by leading thinkers. On 9th March 2016, we were privileged to hear a talk by Lisa Romero, an adult educator, complementary health practitioner and teacher of meditation from Australia.

Lisa’s theme was: Developing the Self – Meditations and Exercise for our Inner Growth. During the course of her talk, she had some interesting things to say about the difficulties and challenges that teenagers are experiencing today. She suggested that teenagers are crossing the threshold into the elemental part of the spiritual world. Lisa enlarged on this in her book, The Inner Work Path:

“Humanity has begun to break through this threshold, the boundary between the physical and elemental world. If those who cross over are unprepared, we will see more mental disorders in our community. As fascination with the occult, psychic powers, and the supernatural continue to grow, all sorts of false paths of ‘inner development’ will become more and more popular. Consciousness-altering substances that exploit a form of gate-crashing to enter the other dimensions will increase. Using these substances to enter different states of consciousness will be seen as an acceptable and inevitable path for our young people.”

Some schools are now teaching their pupils meditation and calling it “mindfulness” so as to avoid any association with the spiritual; but Lisa thinks that this “will lead ultimately to a weakened relationship to the spiritual world, and thereby leave them open to all sorts of potentially harmful influences by stepping backward, not forward, in their incarnating process. All those who truly know the path of inner development know that a healthy relationship to the spiritual world is acquired by completing all the necessary developmental stages of childhood first. These various occurrences that we already see are signs that humanity is crossing the threshold unprepared. Rudolf Steiner describes this unprepared entry into the elemental world, likening it to putting your head into an ant’s nest.”

Where is anthroposophy, and where are anthroposophists, in all of this? One of the things which teenagers need to know at this time is that not all spiritual beings are divine beings. Some of these beings are working to divert humanity from the path of evolution, by encouraging us in our materialism, reinforcing our egotism and selfishness, magnifying our false self and deepening our lower ego – while at the same time supporting our premature access into the spiritual world. Anthroposophists ought to be helping young people to understand that the right path for humanity and each one of us is to align freely with the beings of progression, the beings of the divine spiritual world – but for that to be possible, we must find the progressive being, the divine being within ourselves. Are we, should we be, finding ways of telling that to young people? Are we making sufficient efforts to communicate with teenagers in ways that they can access? I don’t think so. In the meantime, anthroposophy as we have known it is dying. Lisa told me that there are now only 130 society members in the whole of New York City.

The situation appears to be no better in the UK. As Marjatta van Boeschoten, general secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, says in the Spring 2016 Newsletter of the society: “This question (of how anthroposophy can best fulfil its given task) occupied me greatly during the Holy Nights, especially when a range of initiatives in the ‘daughter’ movements in Great Britain are either closing, struggling, in conflict or in financial crisis.” To add to Marjatta’s worries, the ASinGB has revealed that 55% of members pay nothing at all towards their annual membership. What is the future of the society if more than half of its members, out of their own free choice, are making no financial contribution whatsoever?

Surely these symptoms are telling us that the present form of anthroposophy is in serious decline. What are anthroposophists doing about this crisis? My own sense is that another form of anthroposophy is seeking to be born, but it is having an extended labour and a difficult birth. It won’t come from trying to persuade people to read difficult lectures or books, it won’t come from attending the same old meetings with a rapidly diminishing number of elderly anthroposophists (not that I have anything against elderly anthroposophists – far from it – I hope to be one myself before too long) and it certainly won’t come from spending too much time online arguing with the critics.

On the other hand, it may emerge from people who become inspired by one or more of the practical applications of anthroposophy, such as biodynamics or education. I’m struck, for example, by the number of young people who are coming to work at Tablehurst Farm, which now employs nearly 30 people, some of whom are starting families there – this in marked contrast to what is happening on conventional farms, where the average age of a British farmworker is 59 years and where a farm of 300 hectares will be run by one or two men with machines and lots of chemicals. It may emerge if we can find practical, clear and sensible ways of speaking about the spiritual realities behind what is happening in the world, as Lisa Romero is doing. Lisa is part of the Goetheanum Meditation Initiative, which is involving young people from many countries. (Incidentally, Lisa Romero will be returning to Emerson in June for a talk and weekend workshop.)

The times are serious and demand people and organisations of initiative. Places like Tablehurst Farm and Emerson College are seeking to play their parts.  Finding ways in which to meet the very real human needs of today’s young people can offer hope and practical solutions not only to them but to anthroposophy as well. Christopher Fry expressed our opportunity in his play, A Sleep of Prisoners:

Thank God our time is now when wrong

Comes up to meet us everywhere,

Never to leave us till we take

The longest stride man ever took.

Affairs are now soul size.

The enterprise

Is Exploration into God.

Where are you making for? It takes

So many thousand years to wake

But will you wake, for pity’s sake?

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Biodynamic farming, Biodynamics, Emerson College UK, Rudolf Steiner, Steiner Waldorf schools, Waldorf critics

No, Mr Dugan, Steiner Waldorf schools are not cult schools.

Following the anthropopper’s last post, my attention was drawn to comments on the Waldorf Critics’ forum alleging cult-like behaviour in Steiner Waldorf schools. Such criticisms have been around for some time, of course. Several long-standing allegations of cult-like behaviour have come from Dan Dugan of the organisation PLANS (People for Legal and Non-Sectarian Schools) in the USA. Dan listed nine “cult-like characteristics of anthroposophy” on the Waldorf Critics’ website on February 9th 1999.

Just a year or so before that, my wife and I decided that we wanted to send our daughter to a Steiner Waldorf school. Our daughter had had a happy first year of school in the Reception class of our local state primary school. I remember her skipping down the road on her journey to school, eager to get there to meet her friends and enjoy the day. This changed, unfortunately, when she moved into Year 1 and the National Curriculum kicked in. We began to notice some distinct and disturbing changes in our daughter. She started to become clumsy and was often falling and bruising herself. This happy, outgoing child started to become pale and withdrawn. Most alarming of all, the spontaneous dancing and painting and drawing she had previously done just stopped.

At this point we decided we had to act. We went to visit various Steiner schools with our daughter where she met the teachers and the pupils in her age group and took part in sample lessons. Eventually she decided that she wanted to go to the Kings Langley school. Things moved fast from that point; our house went on the market in July and sold within one week for our asking price; we went on a frantic house search process and eventually found a house we liked and could just about afford. We moved in at the beginning of September 1998 and our daughter started at the Kings Langley school three days later.

Why did we want to send our daughter to a Steiner school, even though any rational assessment would show that we couldn’t afford the fees and that we faced the prospect of years of scrimping and saving and few, if any, holidays? There are so many reasons but here are just a few:

  • A truly child-centred curriculum that allows children to develop at their own pace and to have a proper childhood
  • A method that uses art and creativity to teach every subject
  • The main lesson system which allows subjects to be studied with both depth and breadth
  • A noticeable quality of warmth in the schools and friendly relations between staff and pupils but also mutual respect

I would like a school with such qualities to be available for every child who might benefit from it, especially for those whose parents can’t afford the fees of the independent schools. That is why I am so pleased for those parents who live within the catchment areas of the new publicly-funded Bristol, Exeter, Frome and Hereford Steiner Academy schools. I wish there were many more, throughout the country, to supplement the good work of the independent schools.

Dan Dugan’s own history with Waldorf schools is interesting and has been set out in some detail here. Dan describes himself as a “secular humanist” but his humanist values do not seem to prevent him from engaging in campaigns of misinformation, defamation and myth-making. In the USA, of course, with the separation of church and state, schools have a delicate balancing act to perform, which PLANS has sought to exploit by bringing legal cases against Waldorf schools – which PLANS have subsequently lost. In seeking to make his case that Steiner Waldorf schools are religious schools, Dan has listed what he calls their cult-like characteristics.

These alleged cult-like characteristics, as identified by Dan, are shown below in bold while my comments on these are shown in italics.

Cult-like characteristics of Anthroposophy include:

1. It clings to rejected knowledge. 
(The heart is not a pump, etc.)

Here’s an extract from an article on the AnthroMed Library website which deals with this question:

 “To any doctor trained in today’s medical schools, the idea that the heart may not be a pump would, at first sight, appear to be about as logical as suggesting that the sun rises in the West or that water flows uphill. So strongly is the pump concept ingrained in the collective psyche that even trying to think otherwise is more than most people can manage. Yet Rudolf Steiner, a man not given to unscientific or slipshod thinking, was quite clear on the matter and reiterated time and again that the heart is not a pump. “The blood drives the heart, not the heart the blood.”

This topic requires more space than is available here, but anyone wishing to find out more might wish to start with this article from the Journal of Anthroposophical Medicine. There is also a useful description of what is taught about the heart in Steiner Waldorf schools here.

A further interesting fact, which medical science is unable to explain, is that in embryological development, the blood starts circulating in the embryo before the heart organ has been created. In other words, blood circulation in the embryo pre-dates the heart.

2. It requires teachers to commit to the world-view for advancement in status. 
(college of teachers).

Many Steiner Waldorf schools do not have a head teacher or principal but are instead organised by a body of staff (mainly teachers but often including administrators) called the College of Teachers. The criteria for becoming a College member usually include a commitment to working meditatively on oneself, thus seeking an active connection between oneself and the spiritual worlds; on being on a continuous path of personal and professional development; and on taking an active part in the running of the school beyond one’s normal teaching or administrative duties. Becoming a member of College does not lead to any increase in status, nor to any increase in pay. What it does lead to is a deeper commitment to the work of the school and a fuller realisation of the seriousness and responsibility of the task of the educator.

3. Its core doctrines are not published. 
(First Class).

It is true that what are called the class lessons of the First Class of the School of Spiritual Science have not been published – although these can now be found online, published without support from the society. During the refounding of the Anthroposophical Society at Christmas 1923/24 as the General Anthroposophical Society, Rudolf Steiner also introduced the School of Spiritual Science, which was intended to have three classes, leading from one to the next. Owing to Steiner’s death in 1925, he was only able to provide lessons for the First Class. His intention was that there should not be any published texts of these lessons released for personal reading but that the content of the lessons should be passed on by word of mouth. It was also his intention that anyone who wished to belong to the school should be “a worthy representative of anthroposophy before the world.” The reason for this is that the lessons are steeped in esoteric knowledge and require much background preparation from the student. They are not to be read or talked about like stories from a newspaper, or thought about with our everyday kind of thinking. “One can accomplish nothing whatever in esoteric life if one does not know that in esoteric life truth – absolute truth – must prevail, and that we cannot merely speak of truth and still persist in taking these things in the way one would in the profane, external life.” So these texts are not for intellectual or casual reading, but require a certain cast of mind, as well as preparation and commitment, before engaging with them.

4. It is exclusive. 
(Only Anthroposophical knowledge of man leads to right education.)

It’s not obvious what Dan has in mind here – Steiner Waldorf schools of course teach all kinds of knowledge from many different sources, as does any school. Anthroposophy, on the other hand, is not taught to the children, nor is it necessary to be an anthroposophist before teaching in a Steiner Waldorf school. Clearly, the schools hope that anyone who comes to teach in a Waldorf setting will have an interest in anthroposophy and will want to find out more; but it is not a requirement and teachers do not have to sign up to any particular set of beliefs.

5. It guards revelation of “difficult” knowledge. 
(Prospective parents won’t be told about the role of Lucifer.)

When Dan Dugan wrote this list of cult-like characteristics in the late 1990s, it was probably a fair criticism to say that prospective parents were not told much about anthroposophy in many school prospectuses. I don’t believe this was for any sinister reason, but simply because it would be difficult to know where to begin with such a complex and extensive body of knowledge. However, in the light of criticisms from organisations like PLANS, school websites and prospectuses are nowadays much more likely to be more forthcoming about anthroposophy, and this is very much to be welcomed. Parents should of course do their own online research and reading about educational systems, as well as pay visits to the school and talk to other parents before committing their child to any particular school.

6. It is a closed system. 
(Almost all publications referenced are from Anthroposophical presses and periodicals, all writers refer to Steiner.)

Inasmuch as it applies to anthroposophy, this is probably a fair criticism. I think such a criticism might also apply to other specialist areas originated by a towering figure, eg Jungian psychology, in which new territory was being opened up by the founder. The passage of time will change this, as is already being seen within anthroposophy, where the contributions of people such Bernard Lievegoed, Otto Scharmer, Arthur Zajonc and other highly respected thinkers are building on Steiner’s foundations.

Inasmuch as it applies to Steiner Waldorf schools, the same situation applies, with Steiner’s educational ideas gradually being added to by other experienced educationalists. Steiner Waldorf schools have been to a certain extent insular in their relations with the wider educational world. There are reasons for this, of course, in that the Waldorf system deplores much of what it regards as the excessive pressures and unreasonable demands put upon children and schools by modern politicians; and does not see many of its own ideas understood or referred to in mainstream educational publications. Clearly, however, it is not ideal for the schools to be isolated from the educational culture of their countries and Steiner would undoubtedly have wished there to have been much more interaction between Waldorf and other school systems. I have written more about this here. In those countries (now including England) where Steiner Waldorf schools are able to receive public funding, there is much more of a sense that the schools are part of a pluralistic educational culture.

7. It uses Jargon that redefines common terms. 
(Child development)

When Steiner Waldorf schools talk about child development and age-appropriate education, they have in mind the importance of not bringing any form of knowledge to a child before he or she is developmentally ready to receive and benefit from it. Rudolf Steiner has given the schools a model of child development which has been tried and tested now for over 90 years, and on the whole it works very well, because it accords completely with the actual nature of most children.

8. It maintains separation from the world by generating fear and loathing. 
(Denigrating public schools, “us vs them” attitude, paranoia)

I’ve not heard any reports of this from schools in the UK but there are certainly allegations of this nature made in the USA. If this has ever happened in any Steiner Waldorf school, it would certainly be deplorable and would be completely contrary to the intentions of Rudolf Steiner.

9. It suppresses critical dialogue, resulting in elaboration but no development of theory. 
(Consensus government, “like it or leave,” Shunning)

It is, of course, very difficult in any school if a parent or group of parents starts to create serious unrest in the parent body with vociferous complaints. In such cases, if the parents do not respond to offers of dialogue and discussion but continue to spread disharmony, then they may be asked to leave. The challenge for schools is to be as open as possible about anthroposophy before parents enrol their children; and then to provide plenty of opportunities through parents’ evenings, study groups and orientation days for any issues to be discussed before they become contentious and divisive. If the school attended by Dan’s son had been more open all those years ago, perhaps Dan would have realised in advance that it was not somewhere he would choose for his son’s education.

Conclusion

I am not an uncritical defender of Steiner Waldorf schools and I do recognise that on occasion, things can go wrong. Some schools seem to have an unfortunate knack for upsetting parents and then failing to deal properly with the consequences. The reasons for this can be many and complex and in my post on leadership & management issues in Steiner Waldorf schools, I’ve listed some of these. Improved teacher training, school management and customer care are required before these problems will start to disappear. But I also think that when Steiner Waldorf education works well, as it does for many thousands of children (including my own daughter), it’s one of the best, and most human, systems of education you can find.

I hope it is clear from what has been written above, and in my previous post on anthroposophy, that Steiner Waldorf schools cannot legitimately be described as being part of a cult, or cult-like. But it is also clear that Steiner Waldorf schools need to be as open and transparent as possible with parents about anthroposophy and the part it plays in the approach that teachers take to their teaching. I believe that most Steiner Waldorf schools today are more aware of these issues and that school brochures and websites are far less reticent about anthroposophy than used to be the case. It is not in the best interests of any school to have parents who do not support the Waldorf system or who feel that somehow the school has been less than straightforward with them about what lies behind the education. Well-informed and supportive parents, who understand what the teachers are trying to achieve and who are prepared to work with the school for the best outcomes for their children, are the bedrock of any school system, Steiner Waldorf or mainstream.

Further reading

There are several posts on this blog about Steiner Waldorf education, or which touch on aspects of it. For ease of reference, here are the links:

September 4th 2014 – Rudolf Steiner visits Margaret McMillan

September 11th 2014 – The internet, the critics and Steiner Waldorf schools

September 16th 2014 – Karma and the Steiner Waldorf teacher

September 27th 2014 – Why some atheists like anthroposophy

October 2nd 2014 – The issue that isn’t going away – leadership and management in Steiner Waldorf schools

October 4th 2014 – Different strokes for different folks

October 9th 2014 – A few thoughts on leadership and management issues in Steiner Waldorf schools

February 15th 2015 – “Every school could use these methods…”

December 1st 2015 – “A right good evening, the best of cheer…”

December 13th 2015 – Guest Post: Leadership & Organisational Structure in Steiner Waldorf schools

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Dan Dugan/PLANS, Leadership in Steiner Waldorf Schools, Rudolf Steiner, Steiner Waldorf schools, Waldorf critics

No, anthroposophy is not a cult – and here’s why.

People who are critical of anthroposophy sometimes accuse it of being a cult, or a cult-like religious sect. To determine whether there is any validity in this accusation, we need first of all to understand what these critics are likely to mean by the word “cult.”

According to Wikipedia, the word “cult” was originally used, not to describe a group of religionists, but the act of worship or religious ceremony. It was first used in the early 17th century, borrowed via the French culte, from Latin cultus (worship).

Today, however – at least in English – the word “cult” is understood as a derogatory term. Wikipedia goes on to say that: “In the mass media, and among average citizens, “cult” gained an increasingly negative connotation, becoming associated with things like kidnapping, brainwashing, psychological abuse, sexual abuse and other criminal activity, and mass suicide. While most of these negative qualities usually have real documented precedents in the activities of a very small minority of new religious groups, mass culture often extends them to any religious group viewed as culturally deviant, however peaceful or law abiding it may be.”

In such a context, to accuse anthroposophy of being a cult is to make a serious and potentially damaging allegation. So what is the reality – is anthroposophy “a cult-like religious sect following the teachings of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)”, as alleged by Dan Dugan (founder of PLANS and the Waldorf Critics’ website)? Or is it neither a cult nor a religion but a path of knowledge to guide the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe, as described by its founder, Rudolf Steiner?

Let us see if we can find a further definition of what constitutes a cult. There is a very useful organisation called the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), which provides information on cults, cultic groups, psychological manipulation, etc, and practical suggestions for those affected by or interested in these subjects. I presume that Dan Dugan approves of the work of ICSA, because he has published an article about anthroposophy on its website.

The ICSA says that cults usually display some or all of fifteen typical characteristics. These fifteen characteristics identified by the ICSA are shown below in bold while my comments on how anthroposophy compares with these are in italics.

 1. “The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law. “

 Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, was undoubtedly a charismatic leader and his teachings, as set out in his lectures and books, are usually taken with great seriousness and respect by anthroposophists; but Steiner himself always insisted that no-one should take his statements as true unless they had first checked within themselves as to how they feel about such statements, eg our innate and “infallible feeling for truth must be the active principle in the verification of knowledge.” Anthroposophists who are given to quoting Steiner on all subjects rather than speaking from their own experience and knowledge are not doing what Steiner asked of them – and such behaviour does not make anthroposophy a cult, even if a few anthroposophists sometimes can give that impression.

There is an additional difficulty for anthroposophy, however, and this has been well described by Ha Vinh Tho: “On one hand everybody emphasises that it is NOT a religion but a spiritual science, but on the other hand most of the contents of anthroposophy are completely beyond any ones cognitive grasp and have to be accepted in good faith. The method presented by Steiner is indeed accessible to all, but the contents he researched are mostly far beyond anyone’s grasp who is not an initiate or a fully realised being. And there seems to be a confusion between advocating a scientific methodology of contemplative research and inquiry that includes the spiritual dimension of the human being and of the world; and upholding contents that can only be perceived by non-anthroposophists as a revelation given by an enlightened master. I have no problem with the latter, but there is no way one can present these revelations as scientific results that everyone can acknowledge.”

This is surely true. Anthroposophists (like me, for example), regard Steiner as an initiate who was able to access knowledge not available to most of us. We are willing to live with some very advanced concepts that we can’t prove, because of our sense of Steiner’s total integrity and extraordinary insight. Nevertheless, by their fruits shall ye know them; and the results of what I call “applied anthroposophy” continue to demonstrate the potential for practical solutions to current world problems that arise from the work of Steiner and many other anthroposophists in the fields of agriculture, banking, health, education and in many other areas.

2. “Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.”

Question, doubt and dissent have always been part of anthroposophy since its foundation. But since there is no set of beliefs or doctrines that members are required to adhere to, there is no possibility for any member to transgress. There are of course areas of controversy and disagreement but people are in no way prevented or discouraged from discussing their views or adopting particular positions. The word “must” does not exist in the anthroposophical vocabulary, since freedom is at the core of anthroposophy.

3. “Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).”

Meditation and the meditative path are certainly encouraged in anthroposophy, but are seen as private, individual initiatives and have nothing to do with the society. None of the other practices listed has ever had any place in anthroposophy.

4. “The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth.“

There is absolutely no dictation to members on what to wear, how to think, feel or act, who to marry etc. The concept of freedom is central to anthroposophy.

5. “The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity.”

As mentioned under (1) above, anthroposophists often regard Steiner as an initiate and anthroposophy certainly sees itself as having much to contribute towards current world problems – but there is no sense in which anthroposophists regard themselves as an elite separate from the rest of society. On the contrary, Steiner frequently made it clear how important it is for anthroposophists to be involved in the wider world, eg “Our anthroposophical movement should not be a vaguely mystical, nebulous theory-movement sought by people wishing to withdraw from life, but must be a movement by which a man {sic} introduces the spiritual with practical effect into life’s every sphere.”

6. “The group has a polarised us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.”

Anthroposophists are encouraged to ‘do’ anthroposophy, ie to be engaged and active within the world – there is no sense of us versus them.

7. “The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).”

Since Steiner’s death in 1925, there has been no ‘leader’ of anthroposophy. Each national society has a general secretary and Council who are accountable to their members and chosen by election.

8. “The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members participating in behaviours or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).”

Steiner was known as a man of unimpeachable moral integrity – not even his most vehement critics have ever accused him of any dishonourable behaviour. Steiner himself said that to take one step in spiritual development required three steps in moral development. To call oneself an anthroposophist while engaging in reprehensible or unethical behaviour would be simply to fail to understand anthroposophy, let alone live it. That is not to deny that some anthroposophists have failed to understand it and have fallen grievously short of what one would expect from them – one thinks for example of some individuals who were close to the Nazis in Germany or the fascists in Italy in the 1930s and 40s – but these people were notable exceptions.

 9. “The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.”

This does not happen in anthroposophy – there is no peer pressure to conform and no forms of persuasion, subtle or otherwise.

 10. “Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.”

None of these things is required or expected of anthroposophists, nor is there any kind of leader to whom one could be subservient.

11. “The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.”

 This is certainly not the case with anthroposophy.

12. “The group is preoccupied with making money. “

This is even less the case with anthroposophy, as the difficult financial state of many anthroposophical organisations can bear witness.

13. “Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.”

There are absolutely no requirements or expectations of this kind for anthroposophists.

14. “Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialise only with other group members.”

This is absolutely not the case in anthroposophy.

15. “The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.”

People who are devoted anthroposophists naturally value their membership of the society and are loyal to it – but no anthroposophist has ever feared reprisals from other members and people are entirely free to leave membership, without any fear of reprisals, whenever they wish.

I think it is clear from the ICSA list above that anthroposophy displays none of the characteristics of a typical cult. To be fair to Dan Dugan, he has himself admitted, in an exchange with Tarjei Straume, that “I agree that as cults go, Anthroposphy is a sissy; in almost all aspects not dangerous, just a huge waste of time.” That’s about as good as we’re going to get from a Waldorf critic – and if Dan Dugan goes on record to say that anthroposophy is not much of a cult, then I think the rest of us can probably agree that it is not a cult at all.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Cult, Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf critics

Staudi: or The Curate’s Egg

The anthropopper notes with interest that in his recent posts on this blog, he seems to have inadvertently adopted a Threefold Posting Order. The first three posts were on the topic of Angels and then the next two were about Demons. Well, here is one last post about Peter Staudenmaier to complete the threefolding aspect; after which I hope to be able to concentrate on more wholesome topics.

Bishop:

Bishop: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones”; The curate replies, desperate not to offend his eminent host and ultimate employer: “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent!”

Gerald du Maurier’s celebrated cartoon, which appeared in Punch in November 1895, gave rise to the phrase ‘a curate’s egg’, meaning something that is mostly or partly bad, but partly good. A modern-day version of this cartoon might have the caption:

Staudenmaier: “I’m afraid I’m a bad egg, Mr Mellett.” Mellett wipes a brown substance off his nose and replies, desperate not to offend his lord and master: “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of you are excellent!”

According to Wikipedia, “in its original context, the term ‘a curate’s egg’refers to something that is obviously and essentially bad, but is euphemistically described as nonetheless having good features credited with undue redeeming power. Its modern usage varies. Some authorities define it as something that is an indeterminate mix of good and bad and others say it implies a preponderance of bad qualities.”

Isn’t that last sentence a perfect description of Peter Staudenmaier, self-appointed scourge of Steiner and anthroposophy and intellectual guru to the Waldorf Critics’ Yahoo group?

Staudenmaier, for those who have not yet made his online acquaintance, is the professor of modern German history at Marquette University in Milwaukee. His research explores the work of Rudolf Steiner; his dissertation was “Between Occultism and Fascism: Anthroposophy and the Politics of Race and Nation in Germany and Italy, 1900-1945.”

Like a polecat, which despite its stink and habit of biting all and sundry indiscriminately, can nevertheless occasionally be useful for chasing rabbits out of their burrows, the egregious Staudi sometimes has a use; and even the anthropopper has expressed gratitude to him for revealing a slice of history about which the Society has, rather disgracefully in my view, kept quiet. Here, for example, is a link to a review by Staudi of a book by Ansgar Martins. This shadow side of anthroposophy really should be known by all anthroposophists. As “Wooffles” commented on my last but one post, “In the last decade or so, anthroposophists, or at least some anthroposophists, have gotten much better at engaging with historical context, and it is doubtful that this would have taken place without the persistence of not-particularly-sympathetic scholars like Staudenmaier and Zander.”  That’s quite a fair point, although the phrase “not particularly sympathetic scholar” when applied to Staudi’s attitude to Steiner must qualify as understatement of the year.

But, to return to my original metaphor, a bad egg is hard to like and Staudi’s overweening arrogance and contempt for others does nothing to endear him to any readers other than the fawning sycophants and melletts on the WC Yahoo list. It’s an interesting question why, unlike say with Martins or Zander, Staudi arouses such animosity in so many people. Is it for the reason Staudi himself gives?

“Any outside scholar who studies anthroposophy encounters strong opposition from parts of the anthroposophist movement. A large part of the reason why I continued researching anthroposophy’s history had to do with this sort of opposition; I initially thought the article I was asked to write back in 1999 would be a one-time piece, and then I’d return to other topics. But the article provoked such an indignant response among anthroposophists that I went back to the sources to see if I had missed something, and the further I dug into this history the more I found. Anthroposophists routinely claim that scholars who examine their movement have distorted Steiner’s ideas and misrepresented his teachings and falsified his true message and so forth; this is a common reaction among esoteric groups, who often believe they have special access to higher forms of knowledge and react strongly against scholarly standards of critical inquiry. The same sort of opposition I face is even more intense in the case of my German colleague Helmut Zander, the foremost historian of anthroposophy. Many of Steiner’s followers simply don’t like seeing their movement and worldview subjected to external scrutiny.”

Well, that sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it? The picture he conjures up is not implausible: anthroposophists, who may be well-meaning but unaware of some significant episodes in the history of their movement,  react angrily to information which doesn’t correspond to how they feel about anthroposophy.

But unfortunately for the good professor’s chances of constructive dialogue with such anthroposophists, he doesn’t leave matters there and cannot resist being condescending, dismissive and supercilious with anyone who questions him.

Staudi was brought irresistibly to mind when I read the following passage in John Stewart Collis’ wonderful account of farming life during the 1940s, The Worm Forgives the Plough:

“There is an interesting remark which I have often heard here and elsewhere, not uncommon anywhere when some boss or foreman is mentioned. ‘The trouble is,’ they say, ‘ ‘e’s so ignorant.’ By this they do not mean that he lacks knowledge. They mean that he lacks manners. It is a significant remark. For what is manners? Manners is psychology. It is the understanding of the simple psychological needs of other people. It is homage to the strikingly simple fact that people like you to address them amiably; to show appreciation, and to say thank you at intervals. If a man does not know this and act upon it he is called ignorant by labourers under him. That is their philosophy of education.”

By this definition, Staudi is remarkably ignorant. One wouldn’t really have expected this in someone who has been an active participant in the anarchist, green and cooperative movements in the United States and Germany for many years. One would have thought that a person of those sympathies might have acquired some emotional intelligence during that time. Not so, it seems.

But Staudi is not only ignorant in the sense of being unable to resist insulting and abusing people who in other circumstances would be perfectly willing to have a civilised exchange of views with him; he is actually ignorant in an even more fundamental sense, and this is in his complete lack of understanding of Rudolf Steiner. To understand Rudolf Steiner it is not enough to have a good brain; you need to have a good heart, too, and to be able to apply the intelligence of the heart to initiatic language that is often difficult to comprehend with our everyday understanding. Where Steiner is concerned, poor Staudi has a tin ear; he is to the elucidation of Rudolf Steiner what Florence Foster Jenkins was to operatic recitals.

Someone whose scholarly work in the same subject area demonstrates understanding on every page (in shining contrast to Staudi’s effusions) is Dr Adrian Anderson of Melbourne, Australia. I thoroughly recommend Anderson’s e-booklet, Opponents and Critics: Criticisms of Steiner and anthroposophy, to anthroposophists and critics alike. It will take you about half an hour to read but it is well worth the time and effort. Dr Anderson addresses Staudi’s criticisms of Steiner and does not shrink away from the darker episodes of anthroposophical history. Some of what he writes will no doubt be difficult reading for anthroposophists, as well as for members of the Christian Community; but unlike Staudi’s tone-deaf tin ear, Dr Anderson has perfect pitch when evaluating Steiner’s use of language, and the problems that Steiner’s language can pose for anthroposophy and modern readers today.

Staudi is having none of this, of course, and gets his rebuttal in first, alerted by one of his toadies on the WC Yahoo group:

“Thanks to Eric for pointing this out… The new booklet is a standard anthroposophist apologia for Steiner’s racial teachings. It features the usual elements, including some entertaining misunderstandings of Steiner’s texts. One of the more striking examples is the booklet’s defense of Steiner’s 1923 complaint against the presence of black people in Europe, in particular his denunciation of the stationing of French colonial troops on German soil in the aftermath of World War One. Anderson thinks Steiner was actually referring to the African slave trade! It is hard to imagine a more thoroughgoing incomprehension of the passage in question.

The sections on Nazism are a good deal worse. Anderson believes that historians have recently “discovered” that “some German anthroposophists from the early 20th century were involved in Nazism” (golly, imagine that). The notion that this is some sort of discovery — or even especially remarkable — speaks volumes about the level of naivete and historical ignorance among all too many anthroposophists today.”

This is such an inadequate, not to say shameless, response to what is a substantial and considered piece of work that it almost beggars belief that Staudi can write in such misleading terms. Here we have all the standard Staudi tactics of scattering mud and abuse, misrepresentation of arguments, condescension and contemptful dismissal, which he employs to avoid engaging with the actual substance of the text written by Dr Anderson. Anderson demonstrates real understanding and insight in his essay and yet Staudi can’t bring himself to address any of it.

Why is this? Why is it that Staudi is so full of unremitting malevolence towards Steiner? And here I’ve recently come across an intriguing possibility: could it be that Staudi has never forgiven Steiner for criticising another Staudenmaier?

On 22nd September 1923, Steiner gave a lecture in Dornach on “The Logic and Illogic of Dreams” (GA225) and in it he referred at some length to a book called Magic as an Experimental Science by one Ludwig Staudenmaier, in which the author recounts his experiences of mediumship through channeled writing, his denial of the spirit as the source of his writing and his belief that the unconscious was responsible for it but was always lying to him. Steiner is quite amusing about what he considers to be the errors in Staudenmaier’s understanding of his experiences and the cumulative effect of these comments must have been somewhat devastating for Ludwig.

Can this have affected our present day Staudi’s attitude to Steiner? Was Ludwig related to Peter? Perhaps Turncoat Tom Mellett, Staudi’s devoted gofer, could ask on our behalf when he’s next kneeling before the Apprentice Demon.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Staudenmaier, Waldorf critics

The History Man – a polemical story

The anthropopper was taken aback, not to say disappointed, that the good Herr Doktor Professor Peter Staudenmaier thinks that I cannot tell the difference between his polemical and his scholarly writings:

“And a whole lot of Steiner fans, alas, have no idea how to make basic sense of different kinds of texts. Like a lot of other anthroposophists, Smith is simply confused about how academics work, indeed about what sort of article he thought he was reading in the first place. This sort of confusion is widespread among Steiner’s followers. That is a big part of how they manage to mistake an essay like “Anthroposophy and Ecofascism” for an academic treatise.”

Although some might be tempted to say that in Staudi’s case there is no essential difference between the two – because if he’s writing, he’s lying – that would be unfair and I reject such an outrageous slur on a respected academic.

Wikipedia tells us that: “Polemics are usually addressed to important issues in religion, philosophy, politics, or science… typically motivated by strong emotions, such as hatred…”

Well, Staudi certainly brings hatred to his polemics – he clearly hates Steiner, anthroposophy, Waldorf schools and biodynamics. Would it be unreasonable to assume that he brings the same feelings to his academic writings, although taking a certain amount of care to appear more even-handed?

But the anthropopper is always keen to learn, and so has given himself a little exercise in polemics by writing the opening of a story that draws upon the techniques of the master. It is called:

 

The History Man

Staudenmaier was feeling trapped. Here he was, in his 50s and desperate to leave his mundane teaching job in an undistinguished university (ranked only 157th in the Forbes listings). What was worse, he was stuck in an ugly rustbelt town with a declining population right in the middle of what one of his students had called “bumfuck nowhere”. Everything about the place, the job and the students was beginning to get to him. Only the other day, a student had published the following about Marquette on a “Rate My Uni” website:

“You can get the same education at a state school for a much lower price… The campus area leaves a lot to be desired. The air literally stinks much of the time. Milwaukee’s weather is windy, damp, overcast, and cold. Drinking and basketball are the two primary sources of entertainment. There are a lot of nouveau rich (sic) kids who think they are the shit. There are many other students who went to Marquette b/c they thought they were too good for State U, but possess average intellects and often below average social skills. In retrospect, I wish I had gone elsewhere.”

Another student had written: “Marquette is a brand-name, that is all. Our facilities aren’t particularly nice with exception to some of the specific programs like law, dental or engineering or the like. Our gym is old, the cafeteria food is limited, and especially in comparison to the nearby state school, student resources are pitiful. Anyone not affiliated with Marquette will be treated as such. Basketball players are known to get preferential treatment (especially when it comes to work load, and financial disbursement). Marquette University shows little to no mercy when it comes to school payments resulting in many students (even good students) removing themselves based on the inability to pay semesters upfront.”

Even worse, another student had written: “This area is so filthy and disgusting, with Negroes always panhandling and demanding money from you, if they dont (sic) rob you at gunpoint which I was, other students were beaten and robbed or raped, and we have police reports and news articles to show. FU Jesuits!!! The area is full of crime and is unsafe, which the university wants to cover up. Go look it up yourself.”

And one particular student comment had come dangerously close to himself: “From top to bottom, I simply think Marquette University is a bit of a joke, from faculty, to public safety, to office of residence life, and to students. In terms of academics here at Marquette, I’m not very impressed. It’s sad when I’ve taken a total of 16 classes and have only had two teachers that I can say were solid teachers. I even took a history course this summer at a local community college and am willing to admit that he was better than any PHD professor that Marquette has to offer.”

And now the local newspaper had picked up on a recent scandal:

‘ “Be the difference” is the motto of Marquette University, the generally not-very-newsworthy Jesuit university in Milwaukee.  Marquette is in the news now for reasons that it cannot be very happy about.”

“First a teaching assistant at the Catholic institution, Cheryl Abbate, a doctoral student in philosophy, was caught on tape earlier this year giving a very un-Catholic answer to a student who wanted to write about his objections to same-sex marriage in a course titled, “Theory of Ethics.”  The student complained to an associate dean and to the chairman of the Philosophy Department, neither of whom saw a cause for concern. The student then played the recording to a Marquette professor of political science, John McAdams, who after listening to the recording, blogged on November 9 about the incident, making some pointed criticisms of Abbate’s refusal to countenance the expression of opinions counter to her own.  The story began to attract significant public attention, including an article on Inside Higher Ed, November 20, which reprised the story and gave links to accounts supporting McAdams’s views and others attacking him.”

This was all too embarrassing and Staudenmaier knew he had to get out before the last of his options closed down around him. He was pretty sure his supervisor had noted the following typical comment from a student on the “Rate My Professor” website:

“In Staudenmaier’s class all you do is READ. READ READ READ. The books he chooses are SOOO dry and completely uninteresting that it is almost impossible to pick them up. He was very animated but VERY REPETITIVE. Personally, if you want an easy history requirement class, don’t take him.”

How could he get out from this hellhole and find a job in one of the Big Ten universities before it was too late? Staudenmaier‘s private assessment of himself was that by rights he should be widely known for his groundbreaking research and radical views, and like the celebrated economist Paul Krugman, be invited to contribute polemical op-ed pieces to the New York Times. But he was also clear that this was never going to happen while he was stuck here in this run-down mid-west town known only for beer and motorcycles. He had to find a way to establish some sort of high profile academic reputation (and hence a potential escape route) by choosing a niche area for research where his supervisors were unlikely to know the territory and thus wouldn’t pull him up for any liberties he might take with sources and selective quotations. And then it came to him in a flash – anthroposophy and Rudolf Steiner! Yes, that was it… (to be continued)

 

The anthropopper should add that all the italicised quotations in this story are genuine, although his use of them and the context in which they are placed may bear only a tangential relationship to the truth – which by a strange coincidence is how he experiences Staudi’s own polemical writings.

Greetings to all, as Staudi might say.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf critics

The New Screwtape: Letter to an Apprentice Demon

Millions of readers have enjoyed The Screwtape Letters, written by C. S. Lewis and first published in 1942. In these letters, Lewis provides a devil’s eye view of how to undermine human beings and their faith in the spiritual world by promoting doubt and disinterest. The book consists of a series of letters from Screwtape, a senior demon in the Lowerarchy of Hell to his nephew, Wormwood, a junior and rather incompetent demonic apprentice, to whom he acts as mentor. In Screwtape’s advice, individual self-interest and greed are seen as the greatest good, and neither demon is capable of comprehending God’s love for human beings or acknowledging human virtue.

C S Lewis gave little away in the preface about how he managed to get hold of these letters:

“I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands. … The sort of script which is used in this book can be very easily obtained by anyone who has once learned the knack; but ill-disposed or excitable people who might make a bad use of it shall not learn it from me.”

Happily, and just in time for Halloween, the anthropopper has “learned the knack” and has discovered that Screwtape is still active in mentoring junior tempters. In particular, a cache of undated letters from Screwtape to an apprentice demon referred to only as “Staudi” has recently come into my hands. Further research will be needed to establish the identity of this servant of the Dark Lord. I reproduce one of these letters below.

A mysterious carving, believed to represent "Uncle" Screwtape.

A mysterious carving, believed to represent “Uncle” Screwtape.

 

“My dear Staudi,

Congratulations on your appointment to an assistant professorship at the university! Not one of our more distinguished seats of learning, to be sure – but it does have the inestimable advantage of being a Jesuit university. The Jesuits are indeed among the strongest allies of Our Father Below and you will find that the intellectual atmosphere and ethos there are remarkably conducive to your work. They share with us an opposition to the dreadful renewed Mystery impulses that Our Enemy RS and his anthroposophical acolytes are seeking to foster in the human spirit.

RS has caused us a great deal of trouble over the years by revealing all sorts of hitherto secret knowledge that can only hinder our task. If ever human beings really came to understand what they are and what their future evolution will be, as described by the Enemy, then it will be all over with Our Father’s cause. It is therefore very important for us that the exoteric Church continues to demand belief and to impose creeds. On the other hand, it suits us just as well if the atheists and materialists hold the intellectual high ground and engender scorn for the spiritual in the minds of their followers. Either position is convenient for our purposes; and both are much better options than allowing our Enemy to point the way in freedom to a true esoteric knowledge of Christ and the future of humanity. Ideally, what we want in human beings is Doubt in the Spirit, Hatred of the Spirit and Fear of the Spirit.

"Our Father Below"

“Our Father Below”

 

So your task as an historian is to confer the mantle of academic credibility upon our efforts to consign RS and all his works to oblivion. You are to do this by so diminishing him in the eyes of the world that only a very few delusional people will want to pay any attention to what he has said and written.

Your weapons should of course include what we at the Training College call the Three Rs: Racism, Ridicule and Right-Wingery. Let us look at each of these in turn, and examine how you may deploy them for optimal effect.

The accusation of Racism made against any human being is one of the most effective ways today to kill off any real discussion of their views. In the 21st century it has the same effect on most people as did the sound of the leper’s bell in mediaeval times – they run as fast as possible in the opposite direction. You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. By calling RS a racist (and you could add in “anti-semite” for good measure), you will set up in people’s minds the idea that not only should they have nothing to do with any of his endeavours but that it is perfectly respectable to abuse and condemn anything associated with him and his works. They will do this without shame and indeed, with a positive glow of self-approval for being so “right-on”. Now, you and I may know that this is all nonsense and that Our Enemy RS had the most nauseating universal love for all human vermin; but as all our apprentices learn, a lie can be half way around the world before the truth has got its boots on.

In your academic writings, you could try scattering around phrases such as “RS’s racially stratified pseudo-religion” and his “blatantly racist doctrine which anticipated important elements of the Nazi worldview by several decades” in the certain knowledge that these entirely false accusations will scare off thousands of potential followers. Manage to do this really well and you will achieve a situation in which most people, if they have heard of RS at all, will know only one thing about him – and that is that he was some kind of racist. However, a word of advice: try to do this with some subtlety and do not over-egg the pudding. Anything the anthroposophists say in defence of RS can of course be dismissed as special pleading, or better yet, you might say that anthroposophists “lack the sort of critical social consciousness that can counteract their flagrantly recessive core beliefs.”

Ridicule is also a very useful tool; and because of the excellent efforts put in over many years by our cultural zeitgeist operatives, it is now intellectually infra dig for most human beings in the West to express any interest, let alone belief, in matters relating to the spirit. Our Enemy’s pernicious views on so-called “spiritual science” have already put him beyond the intellectual pale, so your work has been half-completed for you already. The kind of people you should be seeking to influence here are the opinion formers and the chattering classes – rich, smart, superficially intellectual and brightly sceptical about everything in the world. They have an ingrained habit of belittling anything that has a whiff of the spiritual about it and they will enjoy pouring scorn on RS and his followers. What we are looking for is a similar outcome to what has already been achieved in ridiculing homeopathy. Your goal should be to give some journalists the idea that not only is anthroposophy ludicrous but that there is also a scandal just below the surface awaiting their investigative attention; for example, you could imply that Waldorf schools are run by a racist cult seeking secretly to indoctrinate our children with their weird beliefs. You can make much hay with this!

You can also make good use of those few sad renegades and turncoats, who were once upon a time active within the RS camp but who, for whatever reason, Hell be praised, have now decided to cast their lot with Our Father Below. These people tend to be active in social media and internet forums and so should you be; your aim should be to become like some kind of intellectual guru and arbiter of thought for them. They will come running to you with little snippets of tittle-tattle, seeking your approval and endorsement; you should encourage this.

The third powerful weapon in your armoury is Right-Wingery, and accusations thereof. You may begin this in quite a subtle, insinuating sort of way, eg: “RS was by his own account ‘enthusiastically active’ in pan-German nationalist movements in Vienna at the end of the nineteenth century.” You could continue with: “During his Vienna period RS fell under the sway of Nietzsche, the outstanding anti-democratic thinker of the era, whose elitism made a powerful impression.” This will help to build a picture of Our Enemy as a right-wing reactionary and elitist. You might then wish to add something like: “RS had high praise for ‘German militarism’ and continued to rail against France, French culture and the French language in rhetoric which matched that of Mein Kampf.” You see what I’ve done there? The implication is that RS’s views led straight on to those of Hitler. The fact that none of this is even slightly justifiable in factual terms is neither here nor there. Of course, this is not academic scholarship we are concerned with, but agit-prop.

So everything is clearly going well and you have made a good start. By the way, have you noted that your new university’s most distinguished alumnus is – Senator Joseph McCarthy! Yes, McCarthy, one of Our Father’s more significant political operatives in the 1950s, he of the anti-communist witch hunts in the USA and the notorious “Are you now or have you ever been…” hounding of some of the most distinguished people of his time. McCarthy is a useful example for you to follow and you should study his methods with care.

Senator Joseph McCarthy, "one of our more significant political operatives."

Senator Joseph McCarthy, “one of our more significant political operatives.”

 

Ultimately, of course, even that brilliant servant of Our Father Below over-reached himself – his tactics and inability to substantiate his claims led him to be censured by the United States Senate and he died in disgrace at the age of only 48. Try not to share a similar fate; you should be careful not to be caught out making demagogic, reckless and unsubstantiated accusations – instead, let some of our useful idiots on the internet forums do the heavy lifting for you.

My dear Staudi, your career is before you. Hell expects and demands that it should be one of unbroken success. If it is not, you know what awaits you.

Your affectionate friend,

Screwtape”

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf critics

Different strokes for different folks

Following my recent post on “The issue that isn’t going away – leadership and management in Steiner Waldorf schools”, there was a minor flurry of comments from some of those who are critical of Steiner Waldorf schools. I will mention here just two of them:

Mark Hayes of the Steiner’s Mirror blog said:

“I think that the common lack of effective leadership stems from the collegiate management structure which originated with Steiner himself and the first Waldorf school, of course. I also suggest that the movement’s rigidity in this respect stems from the kind of unquestioning adulation for Steiner many share, as in your final paragraph.

Having said that, I have the impression that the mandate system used in many Steiner schools was an attempt to evolve from the fully collegiate approach, though I’ve seen little evidence that it has made much difference.

Does the SWSF still have an oversight role in the UK? Can grievances not satisfactorily resolved at school level still be taken there? If not, what role does it now have?”

Well, Mark, what I would say is that all sorts of variations have been tried in order to make the college of teachers system more responsive and effective, including the mandate system – I will be saying more about this in another posting soon, which will look in some detail at leadership and management issues.

I can’t speak for others but please do not assume that I have “unquestioning adulation” for Steiner – if I did, I would have failed as someone who seeks to work with anthroposophy. My appreciation of Steiner’s greatness has arisen over years of study, not just of anthroposophy but also of other spiritually-oriented philosophies. I have found that if you try to live and work with a new idea over a period of time, you will soon discover whether it has truth for you, because something within you will resonate with it. And if it sounds fantastical and cannot be verified, either within your own being or by some other means, then you can simply dismiss it, or say: interesting, if true. I understand that not everyone will share my assessment of Steiner, nor am I asking that they should.

Re SWSF, if I recall correctly, they no longer have a “final court of appeal “ role, which in the complaints procedures of most schools is reserved for the school’s Council of Trustees. What SWSF does do is to provide a Code of Practice, which spells out both Basic and Best Practice procedures; and in recent times, it has also introduced a Quality mark, which is awarded only to those schools which have undergone a rigorous outside assessment.

Melanie Byng has tweeted to say:

“your essential problem is that very few people agree Steiner was ‘a great initiate & one of the most remarkable human beings’ etc & most of these people don’t think it’s a good idea to base an education system on the ideas of ‘a great initiate’ or clairvoyant.”

I’m sure you’re right, Melanie, that not everyone will want such a system, but then as the marketing people say: “It’s different strokes for different folks.” Some people will want Montessori, some will want Froebel, some will want their local comprehensive, and there may even be a few who will want Steiner. What’s wrong with that?

Most parents will do their due diligence in researching the school they want for their child and there is plenty about Steiner schools on the internet, both pro- and anti-. Steiner schools are also much better these days in making statements about anthroposophy on their websites and in their prospectuses, so there should be fewer and fewer parents who are unaware of it.

If I might be excused a personal example, my wife and I were very happy to choose a Steiner school for our daughter, because we had done our due diligence and we did know fairly exactly what to expect; and it has worked very well for our daughter, both socially (like most Steiner pupils you meet, she is well-rounded, engaged with life, well-socialised, articulate and independent-minded) and academically (3 A*s at A level, a first class degree, and is now doing her MA at the Courtauld Institute). There are many others like her, both academic and non-academic types, who are able to find their way into adult life as free-thinking, creative and positive members of society. I saw it every year when I was working in a Steiner school and we said goodbye at the end of Summer term to the students leaving after their A-levels. These are fine young people that give one faith in the future of humanity – and any education system that can produce such results is doing quite a lot right.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, Steiner Waldorf schools, Waldorf critics