I read Steiner’s own words about karma this morning, and came to think about this recent comment over at DC’s Improbable Science:
The famous line, ‘Anthroposophy is not taught to the children,” which I heard Steiner teachers parrot many times to questioning parents, is indeed disingenuous because while the dogmas and creeds of anthroposophy may not be taught as words or concepts to children, that is not because Steiner educators don’t wish to convey anthroposophy. They refrain from teaching concepts mainly because they have a far more effective pedagogy. Steiner schools are like anthroposophical Sunday School. Anthroposophy is not so much “taught” as enacted and embodied. The life of the school is anthroposophy. [. . .] Belief in karma and reincarnation makes a potent example of this effective pedagogy because while the children do not have to learn the definition of the word “karma” and repeat it on a test, this belief underpins teachers’ and students’ relationships in a Waldorf school, and it would be disingenuous to argue that students do not thereby learn the concept. They learn it *better* than if they were tested and drilled on the concept; that is the genius of Waldorf pedagogy. [. . .] The belief also implies that ongoing conflicts between children, such as bullying, are karmic. A child who is victimized by his classmates, or even by the teacher, may have been the victimizer in a past life, and now simply the tables are turned. If the conflict is interrupted, its resolution may be postponed until another lifetime.
It’s worth reading in its entirety. The book I’m reading — in Swedish — is Karmic Relationships, the first volume, and it contains some of Steiner’s lectures on karma. I’ve read parts of these lectures before, online on the Rudolf Steiner archive’s website. Now I’m reading from the start, every word, in Swedish. Not taking anything ‘out of context’ as Steiner defenders regularly accuse critics of doing. And, as usual when one bothers to read all of it, Steiner’s statements don’t look much better in context, at least not if by context one refers to the entire lecture or series instead of isolated quotes.
Anyway, he does explain karma, as the title promises; it’s a basic to intermediate course in karma, if you will. The reincarnating individual — the spirit hanging out in the spirit world — chooses, he says, the circumstances which to incarnate into, based upon karmic needs. Steiner apparently realizes that this could strike some people as cruel; that someone would object, saying that nobody would choose to be born into a family setting where his or her parent is a batterer. But, says Steiner, it’s only to us — living here and now in the material world, with our spiritually limited perspectives — that this notion seems improbable. In the realm between death and a new birth into the physical, the individual’s spirit has insights we cannot reach during our earthly incarnation. Steiner assures his audience that, indeed, the individual who is battered by his or her parent, has chosen this parent precisely because, during the stay in the spiritual world between lifetimes, he or she has come to the realization that he or she needs to be battered.
So, would it be possible to trust that a teacher, who subscribes to such beliefs, would act if a child is in danger? Acting in such a situation would actually be to interfere, not with crime, but with karma.
As for my own experience — of children’s actions towards each other — it is that waldorf teachers remain steadfastly passive. Before I knew better — some years ago now — I thought this too was due to a general head-in-the-clouds attitude. Now it seems far more likely to me that they base their passivity on Steiner’s teachings; they believe children have sought out the bad things that happen to them because they have a karmic need to do so. The teachers believe karma must be allowed to be acted out without interference. It also explains the unintelligible statements — explanations which explained nothing — that I had deserved what I got.
I hadn’t. I didn’t deserve it. But Steiner tells me, in no uncertain terms, that I had greater insights before incarnating — before being born — than I have now. Thus, the waldorf teachers would listen, not to the child in front of them, but to what they guess were the wishes of this child’s incarnating spirit before it came into the present physical existence. The obvious needs of the child in front of them don’t really matter. Waldorf teachers believe there’s a greater wisdom behind the child’s suffering, and that it benefits the child to endure what hurts him or her. They believe it’s in the child’s interest — in a perspective extending over multiple lifetimes — to have his or her karmic ‘needs’ fulfilled, no matter what the temporary cost is to the child.
Waldorf defenders are likely to claim that no teacher would be so cruel as to passively allow a child get hurt, that they don’t ignore suffering, that they don’t neglect their duties to act, that bullying is no more allowed to happen and continue to happen on waldorf schools than anywhere else. But with knowledge about anthroposophical beliefs and knowing the experiences of myself and others — is this claim really believable?