misinformation by the independent

From an old article in the Independent:

After the First World War, Steiner was denounced as a traitor to Germany for suggesting Upper Silesia should be granted independence – and the political theorist of the new National Socialist movement (Nazi party) claimed, mistakenly, that he was a Jew. He was the victim of a personal attack by Adolf Hitler, who called on other nationalist extremists to declare a “war against Steiner”. His health began to suffer and he died soon afterwards.

Astonishingly, this article was written by the education editor, Richard Garner. I can only speculate about the reasons; the article reads like a press-release from a waldorf/Steiner organization. Most surprising is the statement quoted above. It’s true that the leaders of the Anthroposophical Society went to some lengths to prove to the Nazi regime that Steiner was not jewish. This, however, was long after Steiner had died. There’s an embarrassing letter (English translation) written — a decade after Steiner’s death — by the Vorstand in Dornach to Adolf Hitler. Why did they do that? Why did they suck up to an immoral regime? Why did they even consider it appropriate to offer evidence of Steiner’s racial heritage? And to continue: Steiner was a victim of a personal attack by Hitler? He called on other nazis to ‘declare a “war against Steiner”‘? The nazis caused Steiner’s bad health, thus killed him? (Is that the implication?) I do wonder where the education editor gets his ‘facts’ from.

Now let’s try to understand why this pathetic piece of promotional junk was written in the first place. Evidently, the education editor left his critical thinking capacity at home that day. If he did any research for the article, it isn’t showing. It seems like he’s blindly repeating what somebody has fed him. It was written in 2007, and state funding for one Steiner school in the UK was about to become reality — the first one to receive state funding, i e, the Hereford Steiner Academy. When the article was published, it was still uncertain if the school would succeed getting what it wished for. It did, and is now the only state-funded Steiner school in the UK. Since then, lots of Steiner schools have asked for funding in the new free-school system; all the applications were turned down, it was reported not long ago.

Garner uncritically reproduces such nibbles of misinformation and delusional thinking as this one:

One teacher summed up the school as follows. A visiting teacher would say of Steiner: “‘Aren’t these the schools where children do what they like?’ The answer is: ‘No, they’re the schools where children like what they do.'”

Why is a journalist buying crap like this? It’s promotional junk, it’s of no value whatsoever as information, it won’t help people understand what these schools are. And it is utterly delusional for any one of the Steiner teachers to believe that Steiner schools are schools where children (all of them, presumably) like what they do. A majority of children hate eurythmy. How do these teachers account for that curiosity? — after all, eurythmy is unique to Steiner schools. And that quote is but an example! The article is a really shoddy case of journalism turned to mindless PR.

So why did Garner bring up the issue of anthroposophy under nazism? Why did he reproduce that misleading information? It seems to me like a preemptive strike — on behalf of the waldorf/Steiner organizations. They knew that the history of anthroposophy would rear its head sooner or later.

When Garner’s article was written, the situation was different than it is today (with the free-school reform underway now). One should ask what (or who) prompted him to write the article, and what that misinformation meant for the subsequent development. As far as I’m aware, the Hereford Academy is still a state-funded Steiner school, though it hasn’t been without trouble. What did politicians and journalists really know about Steiner education at that time, in 2007? How much of the information fed to them by waldorf/Steiner representatives did they swallow uncritically?

18 thoughts on “misinformation by the independent

  1. “‘Aren’t these the schools where children do what they like?’ The answer is: ‘No, they’re the schools where children like what they do.’”

    Seriously, that’s sad. That’s not journalism, it’s the level of a toothpaste commercial.

  2. The reason I was interested in this article – which I hadn’t read before – was that it is the first listed in the press area of the SWSF: http://www.steinerwaldorf.org.uk/pressarea.html

    I think this page on the SWSF site has changed since I last looked, I believe they used to cite the appalling TES article about Steiner being a ‘cult that fosters humanity’ http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6029534 Though this has been removed.

    There are no recent articles, even those about the Steiner schools and initiatives which were applying for Free Schools funding, and several of those were featured in local papers (one group was even in the Prime Minister’s constituency) The recent Times article by Francis Gilbert is notable by its absence (irony there). In fact the whole Free Schools issue is ignored.

  3. I’m grateful for Peter’s excellent analysis:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/17836

    > ‘After the First World War, Steiner was denounced as a traitor to
    > Germany for suggesting Upper Silesia should be granted independence –
    > and the political theorist of the new National Socialist movement
    > (Nazi party) claimed, mistakenly, that he was a Jew. He was the victim
    > of a personal attack by Adolf Hitler, who called on other nationalist
    > extremists to declare a “war against Steiner”. His health began to
    > suffer and he died soon afterwards.’

    “Much of that passage is taken almost verbatim from the wikipedia entry on Steiner. Or, for all I know, the other way around. In any case, it’s a good example of anthroposophical myths credulously repeated by admirers of Waldorf. Like other such myths, it is simplistic, comforting, and false. Above all, it is entirely oblivious to the complex historical reality.

    Steiner did not advocate independence for Upper Silesia; on the contrary, he told his followers to vote for Germany in the 1921 plebiscite. Hitler did not call for any war on Steiner, or anything remotely similar. What Hitler did was refer derisively to Steiner, in passing, while attacking the German foreign minister in 1921. None of this had the slightest effect on Steiner’s health. Steiner did not die until more than four years later.

    Although the well-worn anthroposophical myths surrounding these events are preposterously innacurate, the complicated historical realities are very interesting, particularly for those concerned with anthroposophy’s political profile, past and present.”

    Peter gives more details in his original post.

  4. The Steiner Academy Hereford (here it is: http://www.steineracademyhereford.eu/ ) is the only state funded Steiner school in England. It was granted on the back of the Woods Report, was intended to initiate further funding and was a significant coup for the movement. The critical article in the Guardian by Francis Beckett is worth reading again: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/mar/10/schools.uk2

    The Steiner Academy went on to be awarded millions at a time when other schools in the area were closing due to falling numbers. So any articles written about it in 2007 in a major newspaper should have been asking significant questions, and not just of its proponents. In this way churnalism causes harm, spreading misinformation and buoying up the aspirations of ‘cults that foster humanity’.

    A shame, because I’ve read some interesting articles by Richard Garner recently and he really could Do Better.
    http://richardgarner.independentminds.livejournal.com/

  5. I trashed two comments that were held in moderation, and which I let through before I realized they were copies. I hope I didn’t trash the wrong ones, Thetis. (I can rescue them, so tell me…!!)

    Tom: ‘About the “embarrassing letter,” it took a while to locate it on the AKdH site. Here’s the direct link
    http://www.akdh.ch/ps/ps_49AAGanHitler.html

    But didn’t I link to it? I definitely intended to link to it… Anyway, I remember seeing a translation of that letter, but somehow thought I’d seen it on Michael Eggert’s blog, but maybe that was a comment to the German original version. Didn’t think about checking critics. Thanks.

  6. Tom — you were right about the link. I had copied and pasted the wrong one. (Which was ironic because I had bothered particularly about *not* getting that pop-up window shit, but a proper link that would show properly in browser tab/window.)

    Thetis — great comments! (I’ll fix the line breaks in your comment with the quote by Peter.)

  7. cheers! I posted it originally in one post and the number of links kept it in moderation. I split up the comments in case you were out for the day. It’s all there now.

  8. Good!

    ‘It was granted on the back of the Woods Report …’

    Ah, well, that’s another aspect worth thinking more about.

    And that passage from the article shows exactly why wikipedia is a farce. Those are not just mistakes or small errors — the entire passage is blindingly and deliberately misleading.

  9. Until now, I’ve entirely missed this discussion following a steiner-proponent’s disingenious post, but this comment fits very well here, too, Thetis:

    ‘Fran: have you asked yourself why you’ve failed to access public funds for your school? Why is it not more popular and why don’t more people see how special it is? […]
    I would understand any parent in a Steiner school failing to understand the significance of Anthroposophy. I didn’t understand it either when I was a parent, and I was as involved as you are now. Once again, our posts at Prof Colquhoun’s blog are worth reading, and we discuss the Woods Report on which the Hereford funding was based and the Hereford Academy itself.
    http://www.dcscience.net/?p=3528 […]
    The Steiner Academy Hereford could only be filled 5 times over if most of the Steiner pupils from other schools in England were ported over to the village of Much Dewchurch. Do you believe that the Academy is popular with the community there? Do you think it is integrated into that community? What does it contribute? How does it address the needs or wishes of that community? In short: is it a model the rest of us can afford to repeat?’
    http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/03/steiner-schools-should-be-part-of-the-main-stream-system-to-enable-access-to-all/#comment-4552

    (Cathy’s comment is also worth noting: ‘It is not enough to say Steiner’s ideas about reincarnation, karma and spiritual worlds aren’t taught; they are used. The schools revolve around them. The teachers are trained with them. Classifications and observations about the children are made with them, and in this light conclusions and judgements are drawn. …’ http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/03/steiner-schools-should-be-part-of-the-main-stream-system-to-enable-access-to-all/#comment-4548.)

  10. thank you! I thought Cathy’s comment was very good, especially as it can’t be said enough times on blogs where readers won’t know that ‘anthroposophy isn’t taught to the children’ – something I say too – isn’t the whole story.

    The point for the LSN, which is a good resource for parents in England atm, is that schools should serve communities, that Free Schools may not do so and may divert funds from schools that do. This is particularly painful for those of us with younger children. The continued funding of the Hereford Academy is without doubt a scandal; it has laid waste to the village where it sits, pushing through plans for building against the wishes of local residents with no regard for their needs or wishes – it isn’t integrated, it provides nothing but junk in the streams, cars on their road and toxic disregard.

    Steiner schools are never going to be part of their communities, unless the community comes and spends at their fetes. They are insular. They are known to be dishonest.

    Fiona Millar posted on LSN the most recent guidelines from the NSN – remember them from the seminar?
    In this it lists the steps to setting up a Free School: ‘Prepare a fully detailed business plan outlining pedagogy and curriculum; School organisation and staffing’ etc
    http://www.newschoolsnetwork.org/assets/events/files/ProposalGuideFeb11.pdf

    Let’s just say that in matters of public funding, it would not do to be dishonest about the above.

  11. I think free schools are, by and large, a good thing. As long as quality of education is paramount regardless of the shape or form of the particular schools, and as long as bad schools are deprived of their right to operate, I don’t think free schools are a problem. With tax-funding, my concern is that the money should go to the best schools which provide the best education. Whether these schools are run by the state, the municipality or a private company is irrelevant. Shitty municipal schools should lose their money too and have to close down.

    But this is dependent on strict requirements — it is dependent on tax-payers getting value for their money. Only schools providing good education should gain access to public funds.

    I don’t believe for one second that restricting funding to state/municipal schools — thus giving them all the money that should have gone to a private company running a free school, which means giving them more money than they should otherwise have recieved — will improve the quility of state schools. I suspect competition and running the risk of losing clients and money will be more likely to do the trick though. My policy would be that any school not managing to ensure their students take the GCSEs and equivalent national tests should be closed down, have its permission to run a school removed. Any school whose students do badly on these tests, likewise. Discontinue all bad education, and the issue of free schools vs state schools is irrelevant. We should be talking about bad schools vs good schools. That’s what matters in the end. Main thing is public funds go to things that work. Waldorf would not fit the standards.

    (It has to be said that since the free school reform was introduced in Sweden, waldorf schools are losing magnificently. They can’t compete with these other free schools which offer… hold your hat… EDUCATION! (and no eurythmy.))

  12. accountability is the issue – and not just regarding academic standards. English Free Schools will be able to employ untrained teachers and be less accountable than LEA schools – what happens when things go wrong? Anyway the whole policy differs from the Swedish model and is constantly changing as the DfE realises it’s made mistakes. Or perhaps we should say instead the Secretary of State.

    Interestingly it was a Swedish source who said if you are really to have choice you must have over-capacity, in the end inevitably you must have schools that fail. It may be the best outcome that failing schools close, but what happens to the children in those schools in the process?

    Very complicated business. I don’t think Gove is too keen on Steiner though or he would have waved one of those initiatives through. I wonder how many will try for 2012 (although some of their customers think the world is ending next year, so perhaps they won’t bother).

  13. ‘English Free Schools will be able to employ untrained teachers’

    … that’s unacceptable of course. They should be required to employ trained teachers. Why should they be allowed to save money on hiring unqualified staff? Nope, not ok. Also, it will affect quality of education of course, which is another reason why it’s unacceptable. Accountability should be the same for all schools.

    ‘Anyway the whole policy differs from the Swedish model and is constantly changing as the DfE realises it’s made mistakes.’

    Yep, that part of it doesn’t inspire confidence… Though it isn’t that the Swedish model is beyond reproach or anything — there has been criticism, and there have been issues (religious free schools, e g), and then the recent reform making it easier for authorities to take action against failing schools.

    ‘It may be the best outcome that failing schools close, but what happens to the children in those schools in the process?’

    Well, they should transfer to a good school — the sooner the better ;-) Why would anyone want to be stuck in a failing school? The good thing about the free school reform is that children don’t have to be stuck in failing schools. They can go elsewhere, to another municipal school or a free school.

    Some waldorf schools are failing, and most of them are doing much worse than they would have expected (I believe). They can’t attract parents and students now that people have choice, unlike before (when I was a kid, e g). Weren’t it for the reforms, these bad schools wouldn’t be failing. Let’s say those 26 Steiner schools would have secured funding. I agree it would have been a very bad idea, because these schools aren’t good enough. But, hypothetically… that lady writing about being able to fill 25 Herefords (or what was it — 10? I forgot, anyway, quite a number of them), it may succeed to begin with… 10 years down the road, she’d realize it isn’t so easy… when people know more and when people have realized there are *other*, much better free schools…! Well, they may not even be able to fill Hereford then! (They had no trouble filling the spots in my waldorf schools, you had to be on a waiting list from the child was born almost… these days, hahaha!! yeah right…! Smaller waldorf schools are in more trouble, I suppose, but even the big ones are.)

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