frome academy, update

The state funded Frome Steiner Academy has updated its description of Steiner education. They aim

… to help every child to fulfill his or her unique destiny …

This life or over multiple incarnations?

… for each individual to develop into a free, morally responsible and integrated person

Unlike other schools which aim to develop unfree, morally irresponsible and disintegrated persons.

The Steiner curriculum itself is well-tried and has a long–track record of successful outcomes

Oh. Is there any reliable research in this field?

[Steiner education] is based on a particular understanding of the stages of child development  …

That particular understanding is based upon anthroposophy. It has little to do with child development as it is normally understood. It is a different thing.

… according to the thinking of the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner …

And spiritual leader and guru. Did they forget to say that? How convenient.

This determines not only when each subject within the broad curriculum is introduced, but also the method for delivery so that at all stages the learning can find a natural accord with the children.

It does indeed determine practically everything. But the ‘natural accord’ is more with anthroposophy’s doctrines than with the children.

The school’s ethos will draw on Dr Steiner’s work on child development; but it will neither promote or teach his wider philosophy which is known as “anthroposophy”.

Again, his work was on his spiritual teaching, anthroposophy, not on child development. Anthroposophy is immersed in every aspect of the school. To say it is not taught or promoted is just diverting attention from the important issue — it determines everything, it influences everything, Steiner education is anthroposophical. In fact, it would be preferable if they taught it openly. The children deserve to know what has determined their education and influenced their lives.

17 thoughts on “frome academy, update

  1. This is not a good start.

    But there’s one good thing about this proposed Steiner Academy – it will happen in the public gaze. If it happens at all – there’s many a slip between chalice and lip.

  2. they must realise anthroposophy has to be there. But they appear embarrassed about it – why? Since Steiner Waldorf ed is anthroposophical, why not be proud of it?

    And how does this sit with the SWSF, the Goetheanum and the content of the teacher training courses? The project is a giant folly, a great big hemp sack of hot air.

  3. Does anyone know if “Dr Steiner’s work on child development” is in any part based on observations and experiences by himself, teachers or parents? How did he know children? I’m not saying he was clueless, I simply don’t know, and I suspect he really wasn’t that interested in actual children. But I’m willing to be surprised ;-)

  4. He worked as a private tutor when he was younger. And of course he had been to school himself, and he had two younger siblings.

    The rest was, as far as I can tell, derived from spiritual insight…

  5. “The school’s ethos will draw on Dr Steiner’s work on child development; but it will neither promote or teach his wider philosophy which is known as “anthroposophy”.

    1) Waldorf schools PRACTICE anthroposophy even if the don’t explicitly TEACH it. That’s been discussed many times here. The pedagogy cannot be separated from the anthroposophy.

    2) Why call Steiner “Dr Steiner” in this context? His dissertation was about philosophy, knowledge and freedom. You get the impression that he had done some real academic research on children’s development. Like e.g. Jean Piaget, Erik H Erikson or Daniel Stern.

    3) If even Alicia can’t give an example of how Steiner’s ideas of child development were based on anything more than everyday familiarity with children and spiritual insight, I seriously doubt there is. Which means he simply APPLIED his preconceived RELIGIOUS SYSTEM to ideas about stages in child development. No real children, no actual research was involved in that process.

    It’s amazing how many seriously misleading impressions the Frome folks have managed to cram into just one sentence …

  6. Ulf asked: “Does anyone know if “Dr Steiner’s work on child development” is in any part based on observations and experiences by himself, teachers or parents? How did he know children?”

    Steiner’s only apparent contact with children as an adult was, as Alicia pointed out, a tutorship of two Jewish boys. As I recall, his position as the boys’ tutor came to an abrupt end when their father could no longer reconcile Steiner tutoring his children and Steiner’s public anti-Semitic political stance.

  7. Ulf,

    re 1) exactly! 2) I have a feeling they do it because it’s possible (either people don’t know what he had a doctorate in or they know but feel it rubs off on his other activities as well) 3) basically, that’s it. It’s possible he had read about children and education at some point. But most of all it was about spiritual insights, coloured by his own experiences as a child. Some insights were more realistic or reasonable than others, but… well. Given the nature and origin of the insights, well, a bit of scepticism is advisible. Clearly, dr Steiner did no ‘work on child development’, that is, unless you don’t count his findings derived from spiritual scientific investigations.

    Pete,
    if I’m not mistaken, he the mother was more positively inclined towards Steiner than the father, and he remained in contact with her for a while (?). I don’t remember if his position as their tutor was terminated because of his views; I think it might have been over already by that time. My memory is very vague though, so I shouldn’t sit here guessing…

  8. Here’s where I think I got my recollections:

    “Now, I took an interested part in the struggle which the Germans in Austria were then carrying on in behalf of their national existence. I was also led to occupy myself with the historical and social position of the Jews. Especially earnest did this activity become after the appearance of Hamerling’s Homunculus. This eminently German poet was considered by a great part of the journalists as an anti-Semite because of this work; indeed, he was claimed by the anti-Semites of German nationality as one of their own. This did not concern me at all, but I wrote a paper on the Homunculus in which, as I thought, I expressed myself quite objectively in regard to the position of Judaism. The man in whose home I was living, and who was my friend, took this to be a special form of anti-Semitism. Not in the least did his friendly feeling for me suffer on this account, but he was affected with profound distress. When he had read the paper, he faced me, his heart torn with innermost sorrow, and said to me: ‘What you have written here in regard to the Jews cannot be explained in a friendly sense. This, however, is not what strikes me, but the fact that, in view of your close relation with us, you could have had the experiences which induced you to write thus only in connection with us and our friends.’ He was mistaken; I had formed my opinions altogether on the basis of an intellectual and historical survey; nothing personal had slipped into my judgment. He could not see the matter in this way. His reply to my explanation was: ‘No, the man who teaches my children is, after this paper, no “friend of the Jews.”‘ …To all this was added the fact that many of my friends had taken on from their national struggle a tinge of anti-Semitism in their view of Judaism. They did not look sympathetically upon my holding a post in a Jewish family; and the head of this family saw in my friendly mingling with such persons only a confirmation of the impression he had received from my paper.” (Steiner, 1925, “The Course of My Life” pp. 142-143)

  9. Oh, I had entirely forgotten that he wrote about it in the bio. Thanks.

    Of course, one gets the impression that Steiner is often more personal (in judgements and otherwise) than he might have wanted to admit…

  10. Mike “Does anyone know if “Dr Steiner’s work on child development” is in any part based on observations and experiences by himself, teachers or parents? How did he know children?”
    I have a degree in education, am a trained teacher,senior teacher and principal. As far as I can remember my training, plus my work in education, did not fit well with steiner pedagogy. Eg; Their (anthropsophistical) view that there is a one size fits all approach to teaching children at any level is nonsense. Every child is an individual and must be taught each set of skills they need at their own level and in their own time. To have my daughter’s teacher inform me that my girl was struggling to incarnate because she is red haired, lithe and lacking (though not at home) a high energy level. So he wasn’t going to teach her to read, numeracy, or literacy. He was trained as a biodynamic gardener not a teacher. Was about 30-ish and didn’t have the life experience of a sheltered boy.
    I know, it’s just my story. I have more experiences I know to be fact as I witnessed them.
    Mike, I am at your service…

  11. Thanks Pete for the sad and beautiful story, with all these delicate human nuances. It is especially interesting in the context of the rise and fall of the nazi empire and the fate of racism and denial in the anthroposophical movement. I’d like to see it as a short movie, seen from the boys point of view. And I really would like to know the fate of this particular jewish family. Or maybe not, the question is even more thought-provoking than facts.

    And thanks for the example of waldorf teachers actually diagnosing pupil’s “reincarnation deficiencies”. I think Alicia had an example of a teacher interpreting her drawings in a similar way. And Diana mentioned somewhere that Waldorf teachers see “reincarnation support” as their task. Quite logical from an anthroposophical point of view. What could be more important? Certainly not such mundane tasks as giving children a good education …

    But let me continue the theme of Steiner’s own experiences, knowledge, training and education about children. I think we can safely conclude that his “work on children” only exists in the same cosmic dimension where Santa Claus is having a well-deserved vacation. But Rudolf’s background explains some of the peculiarities that took place when he grafted anthroposophy onto an amateur pedagogical theory.

    Many swedish teachers have a healthy distrust of pedagogical theories by people who don’t know what it is like to meet a whole class. Steiner had, at most, two pupils. That could be why he overvalued the relation between teachers and individual pupils. And it could explain the overwhelming demands on waldorf teachers (described in the recent norwegian report, discussed here in another post in swedish)

    All parents SHOULD distrust recommendations from theorists with no personal experience of raising children. Steiner hadn’t.

    Finally, let me step up the challenge; was Steiner even interested in the life of children?

    For example when he discusses upbringing (Die erziehung des kindes vom standpunkt der geisteswissenschaft – Köln, 1. Dezember 1906) or schools (Schulfragen vom standpunkt der geisteswissenschaft – Berlin, 24. Januar 1907) real children are nowhere to be seen. It’s COMPLETELY about spiritual science with children as passive objects, molded to fit into the ready-made shapes of anthroposophy. I think that’s scary.

    But then again, I would be happy to be enightened here. Who knows if there are some examples of Steiner showing more empathy with kids (we know he had some basic insights into the life-world of canines ;-). I don’t, I have read only a tiny fraction of his works. But perhaps some friendly anthroposophist could help out?

  12. I don’t know what happened to the Specht family during the 2nd world war. I’m sure there is an answer, but my quick googling couldn’t locate it (I was briefly curious, actually, but fear the answer).

    There is, however, a text by Richard Specht, one of the sons in the Specht household, published in 1925 after Steiner’s death. That is, long after Steiner became an anthroposophist and long after the things happen that Steiner refer to in his autobiography. I just remembered this text exists, and I must reread it. It’s clear, however, that the family can’t have broken off contact completely with Steiner. And at least Richard Specht isn’t hostile.

    ‘And thanks for the example of waldorf teachers actually diagnosing pupil’s “reincarnation deficiencies”. I think Alicia had an example of a teacher interpreting her drawings in a similar way.’

    Not explicitly referring to incarnation though (my parents were not anthroposophists, so that’s natural). She had, apparently, been concerned with my drawing things from above. I’m not sure why any teacher would be concerned about that — if there weren’t an explanation! It all made sense a few years ago when someone, I believe it was Diana, explained something I have now forgotten (possibly something similar about incarnation). And then I connected the dots. I can’t know if that was the actual reason they were troubled. But it’s the only one that makes any sense!

    ‘And Diana mentioned somewhere that Waldorf teachers see “reincarnation support” as their task. Quite logical from an anthroposophical point of view. What could be more important?’

    Nothing! We’re talking about effects lasting several lifetimes. That’s a perspective most teachers just don’t have to consider… (It’s quite a daunting perspective, as well.)

    ‘And it could explain the overwhelming demands on waldorf teachers (described in the recent norwegian report, discussed here in another post in swedish)’

    I remember once an anthroposophist tried to explain how fantastic waldorf education and waldorf teachers are because the teacher is supposed to have every child in her mind for example at night. I mean, not actually working on stuff to do with education, which I guess sometimes teachers have to do. But this was something else. I felt, from the description, that such a presence of the children in the teacher’s mind must interfere with his/her health. So for me the explanation had the opposite effect: I thought, how is a teacher supposed to to his job, this must be exhausting, this must be an invasion of the teacher’s private space, his opportunity to rest and recuperate.

    As for Steiner, he did observe classes in the first waldorf school, and they were quite large classes. This doesn’t mean he was realistic in what he expected the teachers to achieve though, as he was mostly observing and giving directions, not teaching.

    ‘ It’s COMPLETELY about spiritual science with children as passive objects, molded to fit into the ready-made shapes of anthroposophy. I think that’s scary.’

    It is. There are real children in the Faculty Meetings volumes,* which are from the period when the first waldorf school existed and he was involved in running it. His advice and explanations are often spiritual sciency though. I think waldorf proponents and anthroposophists are more likely to see Steiner’s attitude in Faculty Meetings as empathic (even very empathic). Perhaps he is, although his advice doesn’t always strike me as helpful… Empathy seems to require understanding, before it can be genuine. That I think he sometimes seems to lack.

    *http://steinerbooks.org/research/archive/faculty_meetings/faculty_meetings.pdf

  13. ‘Finally, let me step up the challenge; was Steiner even interested in the life of children?’

    I was tempted to say, not very. But I don’t know. He dabbled in everything. Spoke about any and every topic. I’m not sure there are signs that he was very interested in the life of children, neither theoretically nor practically. Or, more to the point, he was as interested in that as he was in everything else.

    And sometimes he strikes me as a person who was interested in everything… but perhaps not deeply interested in any of those things. Well, that may be wrong, too. Geometry, philosophy, Goethe… But children’s lives, no. I think he was very theoretical. As Diana said in one of the Rosicrucian threads — he’s so abstract, so intellectual. (I’ll quote from the email now, don’t have the link to the post: ‘Ironically, these are basically forced abstractions. They can be understood intellectually, they’re air-tight mental structures, but they don’t often correspond to anything in the real world. Funny given Steiner’s dread of abstract or intellectual thinking.’) Education and child-care is so darn practical. In the application, it’s very far from abstract mental structures…

  14. Here’s Steiner interacting with a pupil – well, actually, interacting with teachers and treating the pupil as an object.

    “And now, if you will begin to observe the child for yourselves — [to the boy]
    Come here a minute! — you will find many things to notice. Let me draw your
    attention, first of all, to the strongly developed lower half of the face. Look
    at the shape of the nose and the mouth. The mouth is always a little open, which
    has an effect on dental development. It is important to note these things, for
    they are unquestionably bound up with the whole soul-and-spirit constitution of
    the child… The formation you see here in the jaws — the jaws belong, of
    course, to the limb system — is wholly part of the head system … (Look, he’s
    amused! I think Fraulein B. was asking him why he keeps his mouth open, and his
    reply was: ‘To let the flies come in.’ This is a firmly fixed opinion of his.)

    “… Here (in the front) as we remarked, the head is pressed together. In all
    probability this points back to a purely mechanical injury, either at birth or
    during pregnancy, a mechanical injury in which we can see nothing else than a
    working of karma …

    “[T]he whole breathing system … is very little under control … Hence the
    symptom that is so conspicuous in a child of this kind … What ought to happen
    is that gradually, in the course of life, the whole system of movement in man
    should become a servant of the intellectual system. [To the boy] Stand still a
    minute! And now come here to me and do this! (Dr. Steiner makes a movement with
    his arm as if to take hold of something; the boy does not make the movement.)
    Never mind! We mustn’t force him. Do you see? It is difficult for him to do
    anything; he has not the power to exercise the right control over his
    metabolism-and-limbs system….” [Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS
    (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), pp. 106-110.]

  15. Being a person of special — even higher — insights, he should have known better. But to his contemporaries, this can hardly have been a shocking way of treating children. Wasn’t this just the way things were?

    (I wonder if the boy who answered ‘to let the flies come in’ was not more brilliant than both Fraulein B and Steiner ;-) But it must be more likely that the dental development has an effect on the ability to close the mouth rather than the other way around. Perhaps a child who would get braces today and who was simply tired of people nagging about his inability to keep his mouth closed.)

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