‘it’s called anthroposophy’

In the Sacramento Bee today, ‘Public Waldorf schools booming in Sacramento — but are they legal?’:

While enrollment climbs, the district faces a lawsuit this summer from a Northern California group that claims the Waldorf system cannot be separated from founder Rudolf Steiner’s religious philosophy, making public Waldorf schools ineligible to receive taxpayer dollars.

The People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools filed the lawsuit in 1998, and after several appeals, a trial is set for Aug. 31 in Sacramento federal court.

“We are excited to finally make it to court,” said Debra Snell, president of PLANS. “These schools are spreading like wildfire. It’s a nationwide concern.”

The students, though, wouldn’t recognize religious if it bit them in their noses. As usual:

Bentley said he was attracted to the art focus but heard murmurs that Waldorf was religious-based. He says he knows now that it’s not.

And, in addition, lots of people don’t recognize the spiritual elements of waldorf education as religious, or they don’t realize that religious and spiritual are pretty close to each other and that ‘holism’ and ‘consciousness-raising’ and whatnot are just other ways to describe a worldview based essentially on belief in all manners of stuff that cannot be objectively observed.

“All of us know that a Catholic-inspired school wouldn’t fly, but many people aren’t aware of new-age religions, so they sneak in the back door,” said Snell, PLANS president.

“We are trying to make a point that it’s easy for schools to be duped and people to be duped,” Snell said. “We don’t blame the schools for doing this. These people are really good and deny that this is religion.”

The public waldorf schools have led to a decrease in enrolments at private waldorfs. But even in private waldorf schools ‘where religion can be taught, Waldorf educators say their philosophy is not religion-based.’ However, both teacher training and the pedagogical foundation are the same, whether a waldorf school is operated privately or publically.

Private and public school teachers receive the same training, said Betty Staley, director of the high school training program at Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks.

“We want (teachers) to know what the philosophy behind Waldorf is, although it’s not taught in the school,” Staley said. “It’s called anthroposophy and it’s the philosophy of the human being. In public school, they would not ever mention the spiritual, but it’s important for (teachers) to know it, so it’s not a secret.”

That comment by Betty Staley is perhaps the most important in the entire article. They won’t mention the spiritual, and it wouldn’t be taught to the students directly (indirectly, though, it is), but it is important. It is the foundation. It is what it is all about, and what Rudolf Steiner wanted waldorf education to be about. Anthroposophy applied to education.

Read the article!

49 thoughts on “‘it’s called anthroposophy’

  1. Betty Staley says, “In public school, they would not ever mention the spiritual, but it’s important for (teachers) to know it, so it’s not a secret.”

    This is either disingenuous or naive in the extreme. Maybe the word ‘spiritual’ is not used in the schools (though I doubt that), but the whole endeavour of anthroposophy IS to bring spirituality into human life in a meaningful way, through the creation of strong – willed, free-thinking, morally independent individuals.(Who may themselves out of their autonomy reject or accept notions of spirituality!)

    This does not necessarily involve talking about spirituality but it informs everything that is done and is the reason for the existence of the school.

    Zooey says, ‘ they don’t realize that religious and spiritual are pretty close to each other ‘. I would agree that religions are about spirituality in some shape or form. But there are forms of spirituality which are not religious, and I think many anthroposophists would want to argue that they are interested in spirituality and not necessarily religion.

    I feel it is better to describe anthroposophy as a Faith, since it is based on faith in Rudolf Steiner’s clairvoyant abilities. It is not a religion for at least three reasons. There are no dogmas. If people within anthroposophy behave dogmatically that is their own weakness but Rudolf Steiner himself denied that he was propagating any kind of dogmas. He constantly said that his followers should not take his words as ‘gospel’ but should endeavour to find the truth for themselves.

    As well as there being no dogmas, there is no worship of any kind of divine beings. Of course the whole thing is predicated on the existence of divine beings, but anthroposophy sees them as co-workers in the unfolding of human destiny and the evolution of the earth. (Even Ahriman and Lucifer, Zooey!)
    There is no prescribed morality. People are free to find their own way to moral truths.

    Nevertheless, I agree Steiner Schools would contravene at least the spirit of the law if they received taxpayer’s money in Sacramento.

    Though it is not a religion anthroposophy is a faith. Part of the faith which is anthroposophy is the recognition of every individual’s autonomy, their right to self-determination.

    The Waldorf process itself is designed to enable people to become strong in their thinking feeling and willing, to come their own conclusions about, for example, such matters as religion, spirituality, morality.
    In my own (now adult)family, both of whom were educated in a Steiner School, I have one child who “sort of” acknowledges there may be a spiritual dimension to life, and another who says, “If there are gods(spirits) they are either ineffective or full of malice, because they allow the innocent to suffer. So even if they exist(which cannot be proven), I reject them.”

    I would argue that the aim of creating free-thinking, autonomous individuals does set Waldorf education apart from state schooling, the usual purpose of which is to produce obedient, conventionally productive citizens. Therefore Waldorf should definitely not be funded by the state.

  2. The trial is not about independent Waldorf schools. It’s about public Waldorf methods schools: http://waldorfanswers.org/PublicWaldorf.htm

    Already in 1998, a federal court found that the two school districts that supported the two not Waldorf- but Waldorf methods schools, targeted in the original ligation had a secular, non religious purpose for the operation of the two schools using Waldorf methods, but let the case proceed, to investigate whether public Waldorf programs might have the unintended consequence of directly and substantially promoting “religion” to such an extent, that it violates the U.S. Constitution.

    I doubt the Plaintiff will win. It’s new legal councel does not provide any tenable legal arguments that supports its case in accordance with the rulings so far in the case.

  3. Thanks, alfa-omega.

    Falk- I disagree with your analysis of state schooling. It’s insulting & ridiculous. It’s particularly insulting after conversations I’ve had with recent Steiner ‘graduates’ and insulting to my own state educated children (though they can take it). Your second child is right to reject the nonsense implicit in anthroposophy: perhaps this clear-headedness is down to you and your generosity – a generosity that inspires you to keep writing here.

    I could discuss yet again the meaning of spiritual & its implications…

  4. As far as Sune’s/Excalibor’s concerns go, I very much doubt that he knows what a tenable legal argument is in this kind of case. He’s not a lawyer and he’s not an American. And, frankly, he isn’t known for his insights in law or in any other subject matter.

    As far as I know, the legal argument is the same as it always has been. The legal documents can be found on the website: http://www.waldorfcritics.org.

    @ falk — re Betty Staley: well yes. But I thought of it in a different way — I thought, she’s naïve because she says the spiritual is actually there, when some anthroposophists like Excalibor/Sune seem to want to deny it altogether. Or something like it. She’s more upfront about it actually being behind waldorf education. Much like Eugene Schwartz’s stance.

    I have no objection to seeing anthroposophy as a faith rather than as a religion. After all, it’ doesn’t quite work the way christianity works. Not that I think the difference between a faith and a religion makes any difference in the restricted sense the court case would deal with. It would be nonsensical to make a legal difference between a spirituality and a religion based upon the idea that one of them has a god and the other one has spiritual beings. But then again, it’s not really that riveting to focus on only what is legally relevant (I mean, for us, here and now).

    I’m not sure there’s no prescribed morality though. Steiner said this and he said that, and of course everyone is allowed to follow their own paths, find their own morality. But anthroposophists, it seems to me, often act (based upon interpretation of Steiner’s lecutres) as though there were prescribed rules of morality. In effect, one could say there is a prescribed morality within anthroposophy. There’s a set of rules which people are expected to follow — or else be regarded with suspicion. It may not have been what Steiner wanted, but anthroposophy isn’t just what Steiner wanted it to be; it’s also what its followers make of it. It’s how they execute it.

    But if this was true about public/state school: ‘the usual purpose of which is to produce obedient, conventionally productive citizens’ … then I would be skeptical towards it! Productive, sure. In some sense, of course, all schools must produce productive citizens. I mean, that’s the point of putting money into it… that society gains from it. But I don’t think we should view ‘productive’ in a restricted way, which your designation ‘conventional’ indicates. Productivity can be many things. Anyway, I certainly hope that most publically funded schools don’t have ‘obedience’ as a goal, but rather knowledge and development and creating opportunities for the individual!

    My own personal experience of waldorf tells me that in waldorf, obedience was expected. You were supposed to adapt — to be the way they wanted children to be. To try to fit into a shoe that didn’t really fit you. They may not have spoken about ‘obedience’, but these demands lie at the heart of obedience. You’re supposed to submit yourself — or you’re disobedient. I found more acceptance for my disobedience (and my eccentricities) in the school I went to after waldorf.

    (Hope I’m making some sense; I think I’m falling asleep!)

  5. Falk: “… state schooling, the usual purpose of which is to produce obedient, conventionally productive citizens.”

    @everyone nurturing this kind of opinion:

    when in need to go somewhere, take your travelling stick an GO, please. You are not entitled (because of the above mentioned morality) using a train, an aircraft, a car, a bus, a bike, using any result of the work of people who wish to learn about REAL matters and do REAL things.

    While a part of a waldorf school for a while, I noticed the high concentration, within the anthro/steiner/waldorf movement, of people who loaf about.

  6. Re what Sune/Excalibor wrote: waldorf schools can very well be anthroposophical, i e spiritual or/and religious, without there being an intent to ‘promote’ anthroposophy. That said, I think such an intent does exist. I think what Falk wrote is essentially true ‘Maybe the word ‘spiritual’ is not used in the schools (though I doubt that), but the whole endeavour of anthroposophy IS to bring spirituality into human life …’

    I also think Sune’s campaign to paint waldorf schools as non-religious misses the point. I’m not talking about the court case now, but in general terms. If waldorf schools, and Sune himself, wish to stay out of trouble with disappointed parents, they need to stop all these efforts to downplay the spiritual side of waldorf education. What pisses people off, more than anything else (more than actually the spirituality of waldorf itself), is being taken for fools and treated with dishonesty. In effect, Sune, your campaigning, if successful, will lead to nothing but even more angry parents ten years from now. Being honest will perhaps make some parents think twice and even to avoid waldorf education — but that’s a whole lot better than causing lasting resentment. Eugene Schwartz was right when he spoke about the religious/spiritual side of waldorf education — it’s a pity the waldorf movement has been so reluctant to listen.

    And there really is no difference between promoting the belief in St Michael and promoting the belief in Jesus. There’s not much difference between waldorf morning verse and a christian school’s morning prayer. Spirituality and religion do look rather similar.

    In any case, there was a discussion on Facebook (there’s a waldorf critics group) concerning this blog post: http://www.joannejacobs.com/2010/08/waldorf-public-schools-face-lawsuit/ — I wrote:

    ‘She’s linking to Sune’s website rather than to AWSNA, which is, in itself, a sign she’s not very informed about matters. And then, the conclusion: ‘Despite some of Steiner’s beliefs about the spirit world, I don’t see Waldorf as new-age religion.’ Oh, all right.’

    Debra commented that everything in waldorf is informed by anthroposophical tenets. I wrote:

    ‘True. And when pro-waldorf folks say that in waldorf school, anthroposophy isn’t taught or preached, I say, so what. It would perhaps even be *preferable* if it were taught and preached so that people got a clear picture of what was going on, and so that kids didn’t grow up thinking there was nothing of a religious nature about their education. It would be better if they were explicitly taught anthroposophy, too, as they grow up surrounded by it.’

    Debra wrote that we’re used to how religions operate, the soul-saving stuff et c, in contrast to the workings of esoteric religion. I wrote:

    ‘Saving *reincarnating* souls is a different thing than just saving souls, apparently ;-) Although we have lots less of the soul-saving business here in Sweden, I think most people still expect that’s the way religions work: by trying to convince and convert (sometimes by manipulation, but an entirely different manipulation than the waldorf kind). The reason why parents [who are atheists or non-believers or traditionally religious] choose waldorf is, I think, because they’re figuring the spiritual beliefs of anthroposophy are not part of the schools or at least that they’re just about minor details like saying an ‘innocent verse’. People in general expect the ‘religious’ to look quite different than what esoteric religion presents. Which of course is of little importance as long as esoteric belief systems don’t mess with other peoples’ lives, but a whole other matter when they do.’

  7. I would like to point out, too, yet another occurence of the anthro/steiner/waldorf believing they are special, superiour, not obliged following the same laws as everyone else:
    while Sune Nordwall/thebee/the3bee/excalibor/Tizian/… feels free to threaten with libel actions, with the purpose of, among other things, links to Zooeys’ to be removed from comments, this same Sune Nordwall/thebee/the3bee/excalibor/Tizian/… feels free to provide links to his various sites here, at Zooey’s.

    While a newly appointed REGULAR (according to the add I responded to) teacher at a waldorf school, I tried to orient myself in the wealth of information on anthro/steiner/waldorf. I had a map “for” and a map “against” at my PC, both well-filled. At that time I did not know that a part of the wealth of “for” is faked, in the sence that it is one person only. (For a comparison, I was able identifying Zooey=Alicia H at an early stage of my investigations).

    When someone new to this matter, for example a parent trying to find information sufficient for making the decision about enroling h* child in a Waldorf school, this new one encounters several instances of faking.
    One of them is Sune Nordwall/thebee/the3bee/excalibor/Tizian/… removing critical contributions at wiki .
    An other is the above mentioned reporting critical comments in order to having them removed.
    A third is providing links to Sune Nordwall/thebee/the3bee/excalibor/Tizian/… here at Zooey’s (I do not mean the link page, I mean within the comments as above).

    @Zooey, please, what ever you decide about how to manage your blog, please, make sure that every occurence of a link to Sune Nordwall/thebee/the3bee/excalibor/Tizian/… is accompanied by explanation clear enough for a novice in this matter.

  8. @Zooey:
    “What pisses people off, more than anything else (more than actually the spirituality of waldorf itself), is being taken for fools and treated with dishonesty.”

    YES.

  9. I can put it this way:
    @people who watch out (for any reason) when religion is the matter:
    watch out 1000 times more when esoteric religion is the matter.

  10. Yes, quite right, Alfa-omega — trying to navigate in the world of Sune is a monumental task. Trying to explain it all is like drowning in a swamp. I’ve categorized the posts https://zooey.wordpress.com/category/the-bee/ and tagged them https://zooey.wordpress.com/tag/the-bee/; that’s some kind of help, perhaps. Another problem is that, when he can, he acts behind the scenes. As does the waldorf federation. I don’t think they ever intended to announce they had employed him.

    Anyway. Sune is the person behind the websites WaldorfAnswers, Americans4Waldorf, TheBee, Excalibor. He uses several alias: Eva, Rosie, TheBee, The3Bee or Biet, Sherlock, Tizian, Excalibor, Doberman … probably several more I’ve forgotten. Plus the Twitter accounts: @mycroftii, @the3bee and @waldorfanswers. He also owns all websites such as waldorfkritik.se, although he doesn’t use them, of course. I’ve counted to between 10 and 20 domain names.

    And, indeed, I have some difficulty accepting he doesn’t choose one alias — a few days ago he commented as TheBee and signed his comments Sune. Now in this thread, he’s suddenly Excalibor and advertizes WaldorfAnswers.

  11. I find it quite extraordinary that Sune Nordwall/thebee/the3bee/excalibor/Tizian/… , after all his impudences, comes along here, at Zooey’s, a place of consolation to many (like me), spreading links to his propaganda here.

  12. I believe his idea is that all the people who had bad experiences in waldorf schools are either making it up or greatly exaggerating. He may want to elucide on this issue, though. But his basic line of argument seems to be that all critics are simply under influence of a hate-type group in San Fransisco. Of course there was waldorf criticism, and criticism of anthroposophy, long before PLANS existed, but he doesn’t usually acknowledge that.

  13. I can, for my part, assure who ever it may be, that my criticism of anthro/steiner/waldorf is based on what I have physically encountered, here in Sweden.

  14. So, dear zooey, it turns out you may be a Waldorf success anyways! At least if Falk here is right in that:

    “the whole endeavour of anthroposophy IS to bring spirituality into human life in a meaningful way, through the creation of strong – willed, free-thinking, morally independent individuals.(Who may themselves out of their autonomy reject or accept notions of spirituality!)”

    with which I happen to agree.

    Papal greetings from beyond the screen

  15. Now, that’s true. But then, of course, I wasn’t like the other kids. I wasn’t a blank slate when I arrived in waldorf school. Add to that the fact that 9 years isn’t even 1/3 of my life… it’s soon going to be 1/4. To complicate it all, I spent a few years obsessing about Steiner. So it’s difficult to calculate the total anthroposophical impact.

  16. ‘..strong – willed, free-thinking, morally independent individuals..’ this is the Waldorf sense of humour, isn’t it?

    I think what you’re talking about here is the aim of every grammar school, every public school, every school that serves the aspirant classes. No school announces its aim as the creation of sheep. Certainly a school as loopily anti-intellectual as a Steiner school is unlikely to support critical thinking. But what Waldorf schools really do excel at is lying, they lie superbly, blatently and compulsively as if their very existence depended on it: which it does.

    The point here is anthroposophy, which can be called a quasi-religion, a religion or a very poor philosophy dependent on the occult. It’s certainly a bad idea to have a school-system informed by it and an even worse idea to lock the archangels & the race theories together in a cupboard & hope they won’t fall out. Will you look at that, how unexpected!

    Anthroposophy is not a science. Steiner was no Einstein. It’s only that word ‘spiritual’, before which we shuffle our feet nervous of treading on somebody’s dreams, that stands in the way of inspectors rifling through the cupboards, shining in their torches & tearing aside the voiles to find a religion-shaped memeplex clad only in the most diaphanous wishful-thinking.

  17. Thetismercurio, you are extremely funny especially this: “lock the archangels & the race theories together in a cupboard & hope they won’t fall out.” LOL!!

  18. Z:

    “Saving *reincarnating* souls is a different thing than just saving souls, apparently”

    There’s a crucial point there – I’m trying to put my finger on what it is.
    I suppose I’ve been trying to put my finger on it for about ten years now.

  19. Sune:

    “Already in 1998, a federal court found that the two school districts that supported the two not Waldorf- but Waldorf methods schools, targeted in the original ligation had a secular, non religious purpose”

    Already in 1998, did they now? And yet – funny – it’s now 2010, and it’s still being litigated, Sune. Attempts to pretend it has been resolved have fallen flat for you a number of times in the past, and I suggest that this particular blog is not a very promising place for you to be spreading misinformation.

  20. @zooey – if it’s awe it’s a kind of John Wayne ‘Aww..’

    @Diana-I suppose it can mean that human beings in their current incarnation are somehow less real/more expendable.

  21. ‘Attempts to pretend it has been resolved have fallen flat for you a number of times in the past …’

    He keeps trying though. I think ‘never give up’ is his motto. He can fulfill it only through rearranging reality.

    Re the reincarnating souls — I suppose people are more expendable than the archangels, in any case.

  22. Thetis wrote, ‘Falk- I disagree with your analysis of state schooling. It’s insulting & ridiculous. It’s particularly insulting after conversations I’ve had with recent Steiner ‘graduates’ and insulting to my own state educated children (though they can take it).
    I was being deliberately provocative when I inserted the words ‘obedient’ and ‘conventionally’ in my description of state education, and I apologise to Thetis who found this insulting to her children. It was not intended to be insulting to anyone, just provocative.
    For some years I held a position of authority in local education in England and my experience was that very few people in authority at any level reflected seriously on the content of education or the reasons why certain subjects were taught and not others. My experience was that people just carried out the government directives. And so in England we have absurd situations such as,
    -a daily collective act of worship,
    which must be
    -wholly or mainly Christian in character (This is a requirement in law!)
    -A governmental obsession with measures of effectiveness (testing), even though every professional educator recognises how this effectively cramps the content of the curriculum, ie teachers will teach to the test as they will be penalised if their students do badly.
    -an obssession with unifrom
    -an obssession with competitive games
    I could go on!
    Because I stand for anthroposophy (even though I also recognise the validity of many of the points of view I find here) does not mean that I am not interested in state education. I care about it deeply and I do NOT think it should be modelled on Waldorf practice as I know that is not what most people want. What I do believe in is a good, effective and free state provision plus freedom of choice for those who want something different for their children, whether it be Waldorf, Catholic, Muslim etc. And by this I do not mean the state should pay for the alternatives.

  23. dear falk – you needn’t worry about me or my children being offended by any criticism of state ed. They wouldn’t take it personally and they’re certainly robust. There’s no lack of critical thinking here, dammit.

    Besides, they know far more about Steiner schools than many of those presently incarcerated therein and share a healthy irony about same. In fact you may well have cause, as an anthroposophist, to fear one of my offspring much as a demon fears holy water or a vampire garlic. Perhaps if anything I should be apologising to you for the consequences of exposing my eldest to Steiner ed. But alas, it’s too late.

    Once again I think you’re describing public/grammar school: obsessed with uniforms, team sports and some spurious Christian ethos. How long is it since you actually visited one of our better community colleges? Have you met any teachers recently? Could you hear them above the low drone of anthroposophy? Of course you could, or why are you here?

  24. As an afterthought:

    If you send your child to a particular kind of private school in the UK, you can expect the pursuit of high grades although my own experience of traditional private education reinforced my opinion that parental guidance is more influential than paying any amount of money. Better have a few holidays instead imo.

    It was the case that schools and teachers panicked over SATS tests when they were first introduced. This situation has to a large extent changed, with many refusing to do them at all. Your concerns are a good example of why we should be alert for change and possible improvement before making assumptions.

    If you want to find the ‘toxic childhood’ of Waldorf myth you may have to go to Korea, tho in a recent Korean documentary exploring alternatives to their own education system Waldorf did not come off well. The filmmakers saw pretty quickly, having more than a passing familiarity with the authoritarian, that Steiner Waldorf is not what it says it is. In fact they thought it was a cult, thus demonstrating the soundness of their perceptions. Steiner’s race theories were not popular either although when these were explained they expressed little surprise, having noticed already that something was very badly wrong.

    This idea of parental choice re faith schools (and Steiner schools are faith schools with a little make-up and pretending) misses the point. Children have rights too. These include in my opinion the right to a secular education free from the beliefs of adults with imaginary friends, especially ones they’re unwilling to admit to. When these adults are effectively more concerned with the dead, or believe that children incarnate into their bodies around the change of teeth, they should not be let near children at all. Hopefully this will soon be more generally understood.

  25. Thetis, what you have said above is, effectively, that you as a parent believe you should be able to choose a certain kind of education for your child.
    Other people also feel the same way. But want something different.
    Not everyone would agree about what the content of a ‘secular’ education would be.
    Not everyone would agree that what you call secular is the best thing for a child.
    In America they believe they have an education system which separates church and state, yet every morning children are required to stand, salute the flag and recite the pledge of allegiance which ends with the words, ‘under God’.

    “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all under God”.

    I also agree that children have ‘rights’, but due to their immaturity they are not able to know what is in their own interest and what is best for them. Adults have duties, among which are duties to take care of children, to protect them and prepare them for adulthood. There is no universally agreed definition of what this amounts to.
    You feel you know what is best for your children, but I know from experience that people of, for example, Thai origin, or African, or Indian, or Jewish (whether by race or religion), or Korean, would most likely have a different conception of what counts as ‘ doing your best for your child.’

    Richard Dawkins says people who have spiritual beliefs are mentally ill. There are some anthroposophists who think that atheists are mentally ill. (I am not one of them). You say at the end of your piece, ‘ they should not be let near children at all.’ There are some people who might feel the same way about you because of your beliefs.

    I believe this kind of tit-for-tat name calling doesn’t help anyone which is why I have always tried to engage with people whose thoughts are very different from my own.

    I know you have good points to make about what is wrong with Steiner schools since you clearly had a bad experience with your own children, and I do not underestimate how strongly you feel about this. I hope very much that someone in the Steiner community is reading what you have said about your experiences, and those of Zooey and Alpha-Omega, and others, and thinking, “How can we change so that this does not happen again?’

    By the way I do have some recent experience in my local community college. There they operate a system whereby staff are required to meet certain targets each year. Increases in salary are given on the basis of a points system based on meeting the targets. There is only one flaw. Only a certain amount of points are availabale to each department. So even if everyone in the department meets their targets, only a few of them will get the incremental progression they have supposedly earned. The result of this clear injustice? The most talented people leave as soon as they can get something better.

  26. No, Falk: what I am saying is that parents should NOT be allowed the right to chose whatever education they want for their children although the reality is that in most cases, with regard to both school and home education we need not have a concern for their choice or feel the need to interfere. I’m really talking about the more extreme choices.

    In my opinion (which I realise is not universally shared) we have responsibilities as a society towards the education of children, who are not the property of their parents. Children have rights. As far as school goes, these rights include a right to be educated in a secular (not atheist, secular) setting. If teachers have religious beliefs they should consider these as much as possible their own concern. Many C of E schools, which have Steineristas salivating with jealousy and incomprehension are more than anything a cultural & historical phenomenon within the UK and are effectively toothless, whereas Waldorf education has sharp little yellow front teeth like a rat.

    Home education is another issue, and I refer anyone interested to the provocative Home Education Heretic blog. One interesting recent post discussed whether children were given a choice about their education by parents who’ve chosen to home educate ostensibly to suit these children, not that many of us parents can resist guiding our children in the direction we’d prefer. I’m not claiming any high ground here.

    Falk – isn’t it fantastic that in the community college you mention so many teachers were performing so well? If we really want to pay more for this achievement and keep the best teachers in place we will have to pay higher taxes (or take money from those who have underperformed, by the criteria, which since it may well be flawed could be an unduly harsh measure). I suspect we may need to pay more, especially since some outstanding recent research suggests that teachers’ talents and skills are the best indicators of students’ success. The money has to come from somewhere.

    My criticism of Steiner schools is NOT because my children or my family had a bad experience in one of them. I’ve more than adequately expressed why I think they’re a bad idea. I don’t think there’s anything worth salvaging by slight alteration. The thing to do is remove every trace of anthroposophy and employ properly trained teachers who are not taught to believe in karma or reincarnation as a part of an educational philosophy, even if, as in the case of a few I’ve known, they do their best to ignore the bonkers stuff that gets in the way of what they want to do, which is to take their students on a grand adventure. This would be a fine idea with the best teachers (though it would be a better one if they were competent to teach science and real history, and IT).

    In short: you would then stop calling these institutions Steiner schools, or Waldorf schools and they could be something else. Then we could have a conversation about education worthy of adults.

  27. I’m definitely coming back to this discussion. (Don’t think I’m ignoring you; I’m not. I just haven’t had time to reply. Or, I should say, haven’t prioritized very well…)

  28. Good. Awaiting developments then… (passes round rather nice bottle of vino & attractive tapas to those lolling on the ethereal sofas)

  29. @ thetis — Thanks… I could use the vino and tapas. To accompany the lolling and the LOLs.

    @ falk — ‘very few people in authority at any level reflected seriously on the content of education or the reasons why certain subjects were taught and not others’

    Well, then that’s not very good. These things need to be reflected upon. Not by me ;-) but by people in charge, by those making decisions about education. Not that I’m sure waldorf education is better at serious reflexion — I would say it’s probably worse. Tradition and dogma play a an important role in waldorf — and in few other educational systems, adherence to a long dead guru is as strong as in waldorf.

    Uniforms and collective worship — I’m totally with you there. Those are not things that should be obsessed about. (In my opinion, they’d better be abolished. But I live in Sweden where these things are long gone.)

    As for testing: in an ideal world, I’d agree with you. But what do you do when schools — like the waldorf schools — don’t fulfill their obligations toward the children? Testing is actually one way of finding out whether they’re letting the children down — and if they are, to stop them before they do more damage.

    ‘What I do believe in is a good, effective and free state provision plus freedom of choice for those who want something different for their children, whether it be Waldorf, Catholic, Muslim etc.’

    This does make the children hostages to their parents beliefs, though. Having spiritual or religious schools requires the state to keep these schools under close scrutiny — to ensure that the children’s freedom of choice is respected. I really cannot stress this enough: children are not some kind of property whose religious affiliation parents are allowed uncircumscribed power over.

    As Thetis writes:

    ‘This idea of parental choice re faith schools (and Steiner schools are faith schools with a little make-up and pretending) misses the point. Children have rights too. These include in my opinion the right to a secular education free from the beliefs of adults with imaginary friends, especially ones they’re unwilling to admit to. When these adults are effectively more concerned with the dead, or believe that children incarnate into their bodies around the change of teeth, they should not be let near children at all.’

    And I would say that for children to be in a school that doesn’t also foist the beliefs of the home environment upon them could be tremendously important. Why isn’t it enough that parents have access to the children during the remainder of their time — why does religion have to be in the school too? Where can the children have a little room for themselves, where the religion of their parents doesn’t seep in? Learn to think for themselves, think critically, examine beliefs — all kinds of beliefs, including that of their parents — in the course of religion studies or the history of religions, even be allowed to question the beliefs they have been fed since childhood? I’m afraid religious schools won’t offer this. The children will be the ones who are stuck, prevented from reaching their potential. It’s not that many hours a day a child spends at school — isn’t it reasonable that these few hours are kept free from religious practice, from worship, from preaching?

    After all, don’t children go to school to learn what they cannot learn at home? To obtain knowledge and skills and to widen their horizons — regardless of the kind of circumstances in life they have been accorded by their parents’ situation and beliefs?

    Falk wrote:

    ‘In America they believe they have an education system which separates church and state, yet every morning children are required to stand, salute the flag and recite the pledge of allegiance which ends with the words, ‘under God’.’

    I personally don’t think that’s appropriate. If this was practiced in Sweden I would be very much against it. I believe it’s bordering on abuse to force children to take part of such rituals. I remember the feeling of discomfort at having to do the morning rituals in waldorf school. If these things are to be done at all, every child who wants to opt out should be allowed to (against parental will even). Such mantras and rituals don’t make any difference academically. There’s no good reason at all to force children to take part in them.

    ‘Richard Dawkins says people who have spiritual beliefs are mentally ill.’

    I find that very difficult to believe.

    Thetis wrote:

    ‘As far as school goes, these rights include a right to be educated in a secular (not atheist, secular) setting. If teachers have religious beliefs they should consider these as much as possible their own concern.’

    Indeed. (Mr Dog got most excited by the mentioning of little rats with yellow teeth.)

    Unlike Thetis, I don’t think the free school reform is a bad thing — at least not an entirely bad thing. I am worried about religious free schools though, as well as the ones run by anthroposophists, scientologists and people of other belief systems. Because of the concerns I mentioned above.

    But really, if Steiner schools are to exist, they need to employ properly trained teachers and teach the same stuff other schools teach, at least as far as the basics are concerned. They need to show results. Or you let the children down. If teachers enjoy anthroposophy as their personal belief system — well, fine. No problem. But the state’s requirements ought to concern the schools, what they teach and the results — the personal beliefs of teachers should remain their personal beliefs. To as large an extent as possible.

  30. ‘This does make the children hostages to their parents beliefs, though.’

    I would say this is also true of the people like Thetis who say they want a ‘secular’ education. Thetis is still choosing on behalf of her children, it’s just a different choice. It is a different choice but still predicated on what she believes about the world we live in, ie no spiritual beings, religion is delusion, etc.
    The communist party in Russia dictated a form of education which completely rejected any kind of spiritual view of the world and taught the absolute truth of dialectical materialism – Marx’s world view. (I am not saying Thetis is a Marxist!)
    Most political parties when they get into power try to mould an education which is broadly in line with their beliefs about the world.
    So Margaret Thatcher tried to introduce market forces into educational provision in England, tried to introduce measures of ‘value added’ for schools and universities. She thought of knowledge as a commodity.
    The following is from a statement from the government of Malaysia on the aims of education,

    “Education in Malaysia is an on-going effort towards further
    developing the potential of individuals in a holistic
    and integrated manner so as to produce individuals who
    are intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically
    balanced and harmonious, based on a firm belief in and
    devotion to God. Such an effort is designed to produce
    Malaysian citizens who are knowledgeable and competent,
    who possess high moral standards, and who are responsible
    and capable of achieving a high level of
    personal well-being, as well as being able to contribute to
    the betterment of the family, the society and the nation at
    large.”

    Notice evrything is to be based on a firm belief in and devotion to God, and this whole effort IS DESIGNED TO PRODUCE ‘….citizens…….able to contribute …… to the betterment of …the nation at large’

    I would call this a prudential line of reasoning. i.e, IF you want people who will contribute to the nation at large THEN you should have an education based firmly on a belief and devotion to God.

    When I encounter this kind of reasoning I am always tempted to ask, ” If a more effective way can be found for producing citizens of the desired kind would you be prepared to leave out the firm belief and devotion to God?”

    I am not trying to make an argument for secular education here, just trying to highlight that all sytems of education are based on judgements of value and some set of beliefs about the nature of the human being, the purposes of education, and and the suitable means for achieving these purposes.

    In state education SOMEONE has decided what is good, what is effective and what is appropriate. Usually the politicians.

    I happen NOT to believe that most politicaina know better than I do what is best for my children.

    Having said all that I do believe that the state has a role in monitoring closely what happens in schools and other child-care situatiions. As I said before adults have a duty of care to all children, and the state has to protect children from harm. But to me that does not mean imposing the state’s view of the world.

  31. Oh Dear! Typo above in second to last para, should read “politicians” ( I hope Mr. Dog has been initiated into the pleasures of biting politicians whenever he encounters them!)

  32. Richard Dawkins does say people who have religious beliefs are not merely mistaken but that they are deluded. In English having delusions is regarded as a mental illness. Whether any ACTION is taken to restrict the sufferers liberty depends on the type and severity of the delusions.
    He also talks about ideas which he disagrees with, ie about God and the spiritual world, as being ‘viral memes’.
    It reminds me of the pre-Glasnost soviet republics where peoploe where frequently put in mental hospitals and given psychotropic drugs for being ‘ideologically sound’ , and also of Catholics believing that there are thoughts and viewpoints that it is dangerous to be exposed to in case one becomes ‘infected’. Notice the similarity – the refence to a virus, to an infection.

  33. Oh yes, he bites anything that looks like a rat.

    Well, I sort of agree about too much political intereference. (My mum, who isn’t from Sweden originally, felt that Swedish state schools were ‘socialist’. To an extent, she was probably right. Although, in the end, I think she was wrong choosing archangels, gnomes and stuff instead.)

    But of course there is a huge difference between secular and atheist. Thetis is an atheist. Of course, at home her children would be exposed to her spiritual worldview — it’s as inevitable as it is inevitable that the christian parent conveys his/her worldview to his/her children. But she wants education to be secular, which is patently not the same as atheist. Whether the parent is an atheist or, e g, a christian — perhaps it is a good thing that the child when in school is not influenced in either direction. That education is not about these things at all. It still leaves the parents free to choose as they whish during all those hours and days the child is not in school, at the same time as the school does not take a stand in any direction. Just as it shouldn’t do with politics. (Because, yes, it is ridiculous to have schools that propagate, e g, a socialist viewpoint. Or any other. It’s irrelevant to education. Teaching about political movements or religious movements is one thing — teaching these political and religious doctrines as the ‘correct’ perspective on how the world is or should be, that’s a whole other thing!) To rid education — or any other social enterprise — of all values or moral ideas is of course impossible, maybe not even desirable. Secular is the best bet, I think, one I think both atheists and religious people can support based on reasoning rather than belief (or unbelief) in transcendant stuff.

    Unfortunately, it seems to me, parents rarely know what’s best for their children. Despite this, I believe politicians had better avoid interfering with people’s lives. If anything, I believe all political parties in Sweden are all too eager to intervene in people’s lives to tell them what’s best for them. It’s irritating and takes focus away from those instances when and where intervention has real merits.

  34. ‘Richard Dawkins does say people who have religious beliefs are not merely mistaken but that they are deluded.’

    But that’s a far cry from saying they’re insane! I believe there’s a very important distinction between delusion and insanity — one which I think one should strive to uphold, despite the fact that insanity, for obvious reasons, may entail delusion (although delusion is, at most, a part of insanity).

    In any case, if religious people were simply and only mistaken, they’d correct their mistakes when they found out that their beliefs were unfounded. They don’t — instead they hold on to them even tighter. I believe this is why one could call it delusion rather than mistaken; religious beliefs are immune to reasoned arguments.

    As far as I know, the ‘meme’ concept is used also for non-religious and non-spiritual ideas. Dawkins, and many others, may have applied it to religious ideas, but this doesn’t mean it’s conceptually restricted to this area. It’s not, and as far as I can determine, should not be.

    Of course the stuff you mention as examples are absolutely horrendous. Although, again, the best way to not have to live in societies dominated by such beliefs and agendas, is to support secular democracy. Not because it’s bound to always yield perfect results, but because all other options are worse.

  35. ‘Although, again, the best way to not have to live in societies dominated by such beliefs and agendas, is to support secular democracy. Not because it’s bound to always yield perfect results, but because all other options are worse.’

    Here we are in absolute agreement!

    And I do support a secular state education and have worked all my professional life to nurture and develop that. What I also want is the freedom to choose something else for those people like me who believe that something else is what is best for our own children.

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