gnomes and reincarnation

There was a letter in a local paper in Frome protesting the new proposed Steiner free school. Two waldorf Steiner proponents have replied. One of them is Tim Cutting.

It is not merely possible, but very probable that there are significant numbers of staff already working in schools in Frome that do believe in karma and reincarnation, and maybe even some who talk to gnomes. I don’t know about gnomic conversations, but a belief in karma and reincarnation are elements of major world religions, including some versions of Christianity, and, along with many other components of belief systems, have not yet been either proved or disproved.

Well, yes, but why not mention that in anthroposophy, which informs their particular pedagogy (waldorf/Steiner), karma and reincarnation are central beliefs? Furthermore, unlike many other religions, which at most influence some aspects of school life, anthroposophy is the foundation of the pedagogy itself in Steiner school. That makes a significant difference. And anthroposophy is, after all, what is important in a Steiner school; the other belief systems, no matter their content, are not. And although there may be teachers who believe in reincarnation and gnomes in other schools, their beliefs aren’t part of the foundation of the educational philosophy applied in these schools. The problem is not that teachers privately subscribe to a belief system, be it anthroposophy or some other; the problem, if there is one, is that Steiner pedagogy is anthroposophical pedagogy and that this fact is insufficiently communicated and explained.

Alan Swindell (who once wrote an interesting article in the SWSF newsletter… I commented here) wisely writes in another letter to the paper (same link as above):

It can hardly come as a surprise that teachers working in Steiner schools are expected to have some familiarity, gained through study, of Steiner’s insights into child development and those aspects of anthroposophy that relate directly to education.

Hardly. More than familiarity, actually. Otherwise the schools aren’t Steiner schools at all. I’m not sure why this is so difficult for waldorf/Steiner proponents and officials to discuss these things openly, though. Even when it comes to questions of karma, reincarnation and gnomes.

H/t @lecanardnoir.

*

Edit: Posted too quickly. Need to comment on another things Alan Swindell wrote:

Mr Boxall also claims that the trademarks “Steiner” and “Waldorf” are controlled by the “anthroposophical movement”. They are not. They are the responsibility of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship.

I would like to remind Swindell that the SWSF is a part of the anthroposophical movement. They’re a local UK organisation in a worldwide network, ultimately organised by the pedagogical section at the Goetheanum — yes, that is the Anthroposophical Society. SWSF has the local responsibility for the trademarks, yes. But this does not mean they can do whatever they want. There are requirements. This does not mean they’re not a part of the anthroposophical movement. In fact, what it truly means is that they are: otherwise they would not be in charge of these trademarks.

12 thoughts on “gnomes and reincarnation

  1. I am truly surprised to find part of my letter in your blog and guess that John Boxall has forwarded it to you – as he notified me of it and asked me to comment. So I have had a look at a small number of pages here and on your facebook page, which tells me that you are a highly intelligent and creative person who is clearly an experienced blogger and who has also had at least part of her education in a Steiner School. Even if some aspects of that education was not to your liking you are, like most of those that I know who have had that experience, a credit to that system of education.

    So I must make it clear that I know hardly anything about Steiner anthroposophy and do not consider myself a ‘proponent’ of this form of education. My letter was a response to John Boxall’s letter and it was about the impact of the (possible) opening of a Steiner school in this community. You have taken just a small part of that letter, with no reference to the original letter from John, and so have taken it out of context to make your own points about the philosophy of Steiner. As someone with legal training and considerable intellectual power you should know the danger of removing the context from a piece of work and how easy it is to then misrepresent a situation.

    So may I try briefly to put the context to you and your interested readers? Frome is a very interesting small town with a vibrant and active creative community. We have just had a lively public consultation period about the proposed Steiner Academy and the Department of Education are about to announce their decision to either approve the application or dismiss it. John’s letter came after the end of that consultation and was a deliberate appeal to the prejudices of those who feel ‘anti’ the school. I felt his letter sneered at those who have a belief system that includes reincarnation and karma, and was damaging to our community. My concern is that this new school will have a substantial impact on this community and will undoubtedly affect the financial position of some of our schools. If the school is approved all of us who are interested in the education of the children in our community will have to deal with the challenge presented to us. This will include the parents and staff – and especially the children – who choose to use the school. John’s letter – and the prejudice he expressed – made this challenge more difficult and my letter was an attempt to rectify this and ask him and others here to deal with this new presence in our town with clear heads and open minds. I hope that you with agree with this pragmatic concern – we won’t be debating whether or not to have a Steiner school but how we are to rise to the challenge and make the most of an opportunity.

    Some of us (but not me as my children are nearly finished their school education) will be making a decision about sending their children to this school and your blog will provide them with an additional useful perspective for this – but I would suggest that it should not be the only one.

    Might I ask you if you feel that Steiner education is an option that should not be offered to parents who would like to choose it? Do you think that the orthodox schools (in England) are able to offer a better form of education?

  2. Hello — I need to respond later because I’m short of time right now, but:

    ‘I am truly surprised to find part of my letter in your blog and guess that John Boxall has forwarded it to you’

    No — I don’t even know who John Boxall is (although reading what you write I realize he must be the writer of the letter you responded to — but I have no contact with him as far as I’m aware)! I don’t remember how I got the link; possibly via a google alert or because someone posted it on twitter. Will be back later.

  3. So, Tim — I’m not sure why, if you write a letter that is published, why it would be surprising to see someone else comment on that letter? Be that as it may.

    ‘Even if some aspects of that education was not to your liking you are, like most of those that I know who have had that experience, a credit to that system of education.’

    How would I counter that claim? Except, perhaps, by saying that what we learn in school is precious little, and what I learnt in waldorf was even less than that. We are all influenced by our genes and our home environment. For example. And I’ve had many years of education (and life experience, thank Dog) since I left waldorf school more than 20 years ago.

    ‘So I must make it clear that I know hardly anything about Steiner anthroposophy and do not consider myself a ‘proponent’ of this form of education.’

    It surprises me, since parts of Boxall’s letter was, if I’m not mistaken, concerned with anthroposophy.

    ‘You have taken just a small part of that letter, with no reference to the original letter from John, and so have taken it out of context to make your own points about the philosophy of Steiner.’

    But, of course! I’m not interested in commenting on every part of your letter. Some parts of it don’t concern me in the least, why would I bother? And of course I only quoted the part I commented on. Anything else would be ridiculous (not to say it would also be a potential copyright violation). The readers were provided with a link to your original letter and can read all your words as they stand and then proceed to read Boxall’s words. I assume your letter refers to Boxall’s letter and that any reader can easily find it.

    There’s nothing legally suspect whatsover with choosing a text passage and commenting on and discussing it. I’m not sure if you’re trying to be intimidating, but if so, you’re just being silly. I have quoted you — I have not altered the quote, I have not misrepresented what you said, I have simply commented on your words. And have done so with honest intentions.

    ‘I felt his letter sneered at those who have a belief system that includes reincarnation and karma, and was damaging to our community.’

    But just as Boxall have the right to voice his opinion that a (state funded) school based on such a belief is damaging the community, you have the right to oppose this — which you did. And which Alan Swindell did. There’s nothing strange about that. You don’t need to explain to me that there are conflicting opinions about the school within the community of Frome — I have already gathered as much! I’m not in the position to comment on that though — however, I can say some things about waldorf education and anthroposophy in general.

    ‘John’s letter – and the prejudice he expressed …’

    You said you don’t know much about anthroposophy and are not a proponent of steiner education — do you know that what John wrote was prejudiced? Could it not be that he has more experience of steiner education than you do? (I have no idea if he does. I’m just thinking that there’s that possibility to consider.)

    ‘… my letter was an attempt to rectify this and ask him and others here to deal with this new presence in our town with clear heads and open minds. I hope that you with agree with this pragmatic concern – we won’t be debating whether or not to have a Steiner school but how we are to rise to the challenge and make the most of an opportunity.’

    Nobody says you didn’t have the right to do so. I think it’s perfectly fair that the other side was given space to express their opinion. (But I think it’s a good idea to know something about the topic before doing so, i e, to know something about anthroposophy before dismissing someone else’s concerns as prejudiced. As I probably pointed out — beliefs in karma and reincarnation are integral to anthroposophy which is the basis of Steiner education. You can’t look away from that.)

    In the second part of the passage, I’m not sure what you’re trying to say. I think you definitely ought to debate whether or not to have a state-funded Steiner school. Or are you suggesting that those who oppose it shut up and make the best of it? That’s silly.

    ‘… your blog will provide them with an additional useful perspective for this – but I would suggest that it should not be the only one.’

    I wouldn’t suggest that either. This blog does not give counselling to parents choosing school for their children. If anyone thinks so, they’re plain wrong.

    ‘Might I ask you if you feel that Steiner education is an option that should not be offered to parents who would like to choose it? Do you think that the orthodox schools (in England) are able to offer a better form of education?’

    To the first question: not unless Steiner schools prove they offer a quality education that does not let children down. Not unless they show that they have the wacky worldview elements under control (reincarnation, karma, temperaments, odd psychology, pseudoscience, et c). Not unless they’re honest and upfront. I think if tax payers are expected to finance these schools, the requirements should be stricter. Waldorf (Steiner) schools have been publicly funded for about 25 years in Sweden. In my opinion it was a mistake to do that before ensuring that the schools offered something of quality and that they were prepared to adhere to certain requirements. But they were left to do what they pleased (I see a definite risk for that in the UK too). To the second question: I live in Sweden. In general, mainstream schools — even though they aren’t very good and the education system has been severely criticized recently — offer a better education than waldorf schools. As far as I can tell, from communicating with people in the UK, mainstream schools do offer a better education than Steiner schools. I trust their judgement, but can’t make my own. I don’t live in the UK, I don’t have children and will never have to choose an education. (I’m quite thankful for that. I e, for not having to choose an education. Basically, there’s too much crap in education.)

  4. In reply to Tim….I am sure Alicia will be replying again soon but meanwhile I would like to say you are right to be very concerned about who will be running the new Free school in Frome.
    If you want to know what ‘Steiner town’ looks like, come to Stroud (also vibrant, active and creative).
    Here we have anthroposophic medicine practised partly by kind permission of the NHS.
    We have students on courses funded by tax-payers at a college of Science and Art where no science courses are on offer, but plenty of pottery.
    We have no fewer than nine Steiner establishments in the locality and I have begun to feel threatened merely by asking questions about them.
    A brief stint over 20 years ago working in a Steiner school left me confused rather than ‘anti’, but recently on becoming more curious about the movement which has such a presence here, I realise I had a narrow escape in deciding against sending my children to the kindergarten down the road.
    My main concern is the lack of transparency about the spiritualist/religious basis of waldorf education and the way parents are mislead into thinking Waldorf would be a good way to educate their children.
    Even when they ask direct questions I do not think they are given the information they need to make an informed decision.
    You say you would like people to deal with the presence of the school in Frome with ‘clear heads and open minds’. The problem is that those within the movement do not seem to possess either, and having filled their own heads with the fog of anthroposophy are intent on using it to influence education in your town.

  5. Helen — exactly, this

    ‘You say you would like people to deal with the presence of the school in Frome with ‘clear heads and open minds’’

    in combination with this

    ‘My main concern is the lack of transparency about the spiritualist/religious basis of waldorf education and the way parents are mislead into thinking Waldorf would be a good way to educate their children.’

    When debating this, ‘clear heads and an open mind’ is not enough — one must seek knowledge that the pro-Steiner side isn’t volunteering to give. Or any debate will risk misrepresenting what is at stake here. Many important aspects will be entirely neglected because people aren’t being upfront. If the Steiner proponents — in Frome, in Stroud, and elsewhere — were open about the foundation, the starting point would be much different.

Comments are closed.