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Is anyone here prepared to say that they believe in anthroposophy?

(144 Posts)
Greensleeves Wed 23-Apr-08 13:12:00

There's been so much conjecture about it/testimony from parents etc who had negative experiences of Waldorf education, or who say that they weren't aware of anthroposophy/the esoteric spiritual side of Steiner.

What I haven't seen (apologies if I missed it!) is someone come on and say "yes, I am an anthroposophist, come and ask me questions and I will clarify how it works"

Anyone? I would be really, really, interested.

barking Fri 25-Apr-08 14:19:00

Oh Thanks AMumInScotland smile I get confused - hence my name!
Well, I've officially become my mother and written to the Daily Mail on the back of the smoking story shock I thought they may be interested in investigating further so I've directed them onto mumsnet.

Raconteur Sat 26-Apr-08 14:30:21

It's been a while since I looked at this discussion thread. I'm not an anthroposophist - or an anything-ist - but I've read a lot of Steiner's work and work as a teacher in a Steiner school, and if you folks don't jump down my neck (if your bark is worse than your bite, barking!), I'm happy to answer any questions.

A little background might help you get to know me: I grew up in a conventionally religious family but turned atheist at around age 12. In my early twenties I connected strongly with the Quakers and also became very interested in alternative spiritualities. At a time when my interest in education as a career direction was reviving, a friend invited me to visit a Steiner school where she worked. I was struck by the beauty of the classrooms, the peaceful flow of the day and the joy of the children. I worked there part-time for a year, then full-time the next year. I was convinced enough to do a year of teacher training (at Emerson College in Sussex).

I see tons of problems and challenges for the schools, including inadequate mentoring for new teachers, inadequate funding, too little awareness of other approaches to education in most training courses and schools (the Plymouth University Steiner training course is an exception here). I also despair over some of Steiner's racial and ethnic comments, but like most people I know don't consider these remotely representative of his thought, even less representative of his work, and least of all representative of how Steiner education has manifested for the last 90 years.

An anecdote: My Steiner school is located in a racially and ethnically diverse region. At one point, we only had one person of African origin in the secondary school (it's a bit better now). This student lived in a district populated nearly exclusively by blacks. When he graduated, he said about his experience as the only black in a class of 26: "I have 25 good white friends here. I also have many black friends from back home. My black friends go to racially far more mixed schools. But there, the blacks sit together as a group, the whites sit separately, other ethnic groups sit off on their own. My friends have had a more isolating experience at a racially diverse school than I have here. And I have never experienced any prejudice from anyone at this school."

We who work in the schools know better than anyone else that there's a lot to do to improve Steiner schools. Anthroposophy generally has also gotten into a bit of a rut some ways, though it may be heaving itself out; there are a lot of new and freer people getting involved in positive ways (check out Triodos Bank, for example).

Well, hope I haven't put your backs up, but I'm happy to answer questions. Please keep it civil.

Janni Sat 26-Apr-08 16:06:44

When you accept a job as a teacher in a Steiner School, are you asked about your views on anthroposophy?

Is there a hierarchy among the teachers with those who believe most strongly in anthroposophy slightly looking down on those who are less convinced by it?

northernrefugee39 Sat 26-Apr-08 18:25:56

Hi raconteur, thanks for coming in on this discussion, it's the first "teacher2 who's been brave enough to show! THANKS[smile}

I come also from a long line of an established Quaker family too as it happens, which made me all the more horrified at the lack of humanity I experienced at Steiner, i.e individual kindness, lack of compassion,cruelty in some cases, lack of humility, the teacher as having a "sacred" task, not allowed to be questioned, the whole movenment is more important etc was my impression.

My feeling about the race thing is that although the final quest of the "Universal Human" is mankind's ultimate spritual goal, the evolutionary process that Steiner lays out , is to jettison the "lesser" races on the ladder upwards; in fact this is the only way in his book.
Spiritual "progress" is only possible if you "progress" into a white skin.

This is seen again and again in his writing, ethnic divergence is marked within a spritual hierarcgy.
A small aryan advanced group rises spiritually through reincarnation, while the mass of the "lower" races decline.

It is possible to incarnate in a different skin colour, and therefore rise higher, the skin being a mantle for the incarnating soul.

Since reincarnation is the central tenet of anthroposophy, the race belief cannot be set aside, and certainly m modern anthroposophists should address it, and denounce these theories, rather than try to argue around them.

Hope this makes sense, i've written a bit fast as kids need feeding!

northernrefugee39 Sat 26-Apr-08 19:06:04

One question which I'd love to ask, (and actually was answered for me on Times thread, but since always denied, is , are teachers advised, encouraged, not to talk to parents about anthroposophy,but to concentrate on the arty creative stuff?
A teacher who trained at Emerson, and another , said this was what happened, but all other steiner people laugh and vehemently deny this.
What happened in your training when it came to "explaining" the reincarnation, soul, spirituality part to parents?

Are you compelled or "invited" to the weekly anthroposphical study groups?

How much is your own path to spiritual developpment emphasised within the training?

PeteK Sat 26-Apr-08 19:34:20

Thank you Raconteur for joining in. I loved your anecdote about the black child in the Waldorf school. I could see that happening among the kids.

My concerns are mostly about disclosure. I have heard many claims from Waldorf teachers that they (going against the stream perhaps) disclose what parents need to know about Waldorf. Further investigation, however, often makes it clear that what Waldorf teachers believe parents "need" to know and what parents believe they need to know are often at odds. Currently, if one looks at Waldorf school websites, Anthroposophy is often either missing or relegated to a link or two (even AWSNA's website is conspicuously quiet about it). My first question to you is - Do you feel prospective parents should do their own research about Waldorf, or do you feel it is the Waldorf school's responsibility to disclose in DETAIL the spiritual underpinnings of Waldorf that might cause parents concern?

On a lighter note - are you familiar with the Waldorf activity called "Greek games" or "Olympics" - typically conducted around the 5th grade?

Thanks again for participating. Pete

Raconteur Sun 27-Apr-08 05:56:23

Well, I'm a little overwhelmed. There certainly are plenty of questions. I suppose I'll just answer them more or less in order. First of all, I'll say that all these questions are very sensible ones, and all are ones that teachers should be ready and able to discuss with parents (and with each other!!)

First of all, Steiner education, like all education, has a creative aspect and an applied aspect. As a teacher, in planning my lesson I can try to find a unique way of bringing a subject for the particular group I'm about to teach. Or I can look up the curriculum plan for the day and use this. If the latter happened regularly it would be a "Steiner method" school; they would use the nice beeswax crayons and teach acoustics in sixth grade, as the method says to do, but there wouldn't be any real creative work going on (in an extreme situation). Most Steiner schools want to have people working from the source, that is, the source of Steiner education. To do that, in my experience, you have to have some deep connection to a spirituality compatible with anthroposophy. So part of the employment process is to check on this; they either ask about the applicant's spiritual path generally or about her/his connection to anthroposophy specifically. I think it's an acceptable question (i.e. sufficiently work related) as long as schools are open to a range of answers. One of our school's best and most long-standing teachers has no connection to anthroposophy, though she respects it; she is simply a very deep human being with a wonderful sense for how to enable children to learn. She is deeply respected at the school by everyone.

Hierarchies...At some schools there might well be a group who thinks they are better because of their anthroposophical background; I have never experienced this personally, however. The practical demands of teaching are pretty clear, and trump anything else - if you are competent and stable you get a lot of respect. A teacher at the Steiner school I worked at before my current school mocked all the Steiner-trained teachers (she had attended a normal teacher training); she thought they had weak practical skills. So there was a potential for a kind of reverse hierarchy there.

I'm sorry to hear that northernrefugee experienced a lack of compassion and humility, or even cruelty; this is intolerable in any school - in any social setting. Honestly: Steiner schools are not utopias. They have all the problems of any other school. There are insecure and intolerant people everywhere, and having an ideology to fall back on can intensify this. I do think that practicing any spiritual path helps many people overcome such tendencies - but it may intensify them in a few people, too. What can I say? I apologize for my colleagues if they've caused you distress. We've had a lot of intense work on social health at our school these last years, and it has helped our awareness of how to address issues such as bullying. This is another place where Steiner schools need to keep open to learning from what the society around is doing!

Any racial theory - by anyone - that claims that certain races are inferior or superior offends me deeply. Most anthroposophists, though, have only run into Steiner's statements about needing to overcome all prejudice (gender, race, etc.) and the need for all peoples to work together - that all together are important for the whole of humanity, each having special gifts to bring. You have to realize that this is what you find in his most well-known writings; the weird comments (of which there are, alas, plenty) are mostly in works that your average teacher, or even dedicated anthroposophist, either has never read or maybe has read once many years ago. So people are partly just not aware of these, and partly a little in denial; if someone brings this up, the first reaction is going to be - "there's no way Steiner said something like that" - because it seems so opposed to Steiner's thinking, or at least to most people's ideas about this. The second reaction, once the person is convinced that he really did, is that it is irrelevant; "just ignore this, it has nothing to do with anthroposophy". On one level, this is kind of a good answer - it means that anthroposophists believe that racial prejudice really does have nothing to do with anthroposophy, and since the latter is formed by real people in the world today, it is a self-fulfilling expectation. On another level, it totally ignores the fact that Steiner was able to make such comments.

My personal take? For Germany at that era, he exhibited a fairly typical mix of idealism and racial stereotyping. I take the latter as something we all want to put behind us as fast as possible and check out the more worthwhile sides. Remember, though, I get to cherry-pick, as I'm not an anything-ist!

The question of how to address parents about the nature of Steiner education and anthroposophy is really good. We all find parent education a real challenge. It's perfectly possible to bore a group or individual totally, or convince them that you are unhealthily single-minded, by going on and on about anthroposophical ideas when they just want to hear about the education itself. On the other hand, it's perfectly possible for a parent to feel that s/he was not adequately informed. Most people I've talked to about this have had more direct experiences with the former situation; many parents simply have a limited interest in hearing about spirituality, reincarnation, Lucifer and Ahriman (anthropomorphized yin and yang principles, more or less), or whatever.

In our training we were advised to be sensitive to what parents actually want to know. It's my impression that now many or most schools are increasingly careful to ensure that parents understand that there is a spiritual background to the education; our school is extremely public about this. And I agree that this sort of "disclosure" is important; people should understand what they are getting into.

If the question about being compelled or invited to study groups applied to the trainings, I suppose that there's little choice there (study of books by Steiner are frequently part of the course). In schools, however, there are no compulsory anthroposophical study groups, at least that I've ever heard of (and it seems a pretty unlikely idea). But in faculty meetings teachers might well study a book by Steiner on education. Does this count? The intention is to explore pedagogical questions.

Personally, I found that my Steiner teacher training deeply respected my and others' own spiritual paths; teachers and students showed genuine interest in my Quaker experiences, for example.

I'm running out of steam fast, friends. Olympic games? Yes, our school takes part in these; the children of various schools join together in mixed teams to "compete".

Sorry for the length of this asked so many questions!!!

Best wishes!

northernrefugee39 Sun 27-Apr-08 10:33:35

Raconteur, thankyou so much for answering with honesty and as much clarity as you can.It's really appreciated, and I have to say, a first!smile

And thanks for your sympathy about the times my kids and others had at the Steiner school.

I feel the race issue is more central to Steiner's tenet than probably many "on the path" realise. Studying his work on evolution, the path of human kind, reincarnating through higher and higher planes, the thread running through this theory, is that while anyone can incarnate as any race, the goal of the "Universal Human", where race and ethnicity are obsolete, is to jettison the "backward", "evil" races, and for souls capable of moving higher, spiritual progress is associated with whiteness. As reincarnation is the central belief in anthroposophy, I see no way that the race theoris can be ignored.
But of course, most people involved in steiner aren't "racist", that would be naive. The strand of thought, and subtle ways it is in the curriculum, ( my daughter's books had stuff about skin colour the colour of mud, maths being taught with a story abot a goblin with piles of money he leant called Goldfinger or something, stories of ugly black elves who everyone hated and golden haired princesses, it was all there, a year or two ago)

If the Steiner curriculum wasn't adhered to, I suppose the "Steiner" would be obsolete. If the school belongs to the Steiner School's fellowship, they are more "Steiner" rooted I would imagine, and not autonomous atall.

One phrase absolutely makes me wince, and sums up quite a lot, although I'm sure you didn't mean it in any condescending way:

"We all find parent education a real challenge."

I actually believe I am well educated!(In terms of years spent at educational institutions, as a lecturer myself at various times, more educated than many of those teaching my kids)

I'm sure you meant, telling parents the nuances of anthroposophy, the "difficult" areas.

But the phrase "educating parents" does grate somewhat. We sent our kids to be "educated" not us.
That phrase sums up the feeling that the teacher has the "knowledge", is more important than the parent, the child has ben drawn karmically to the teacher, who has a sacred task etc etc. It really sticks in my gullet, and is the opposite of "humility" in my book.

More to the point, would be "telling" the parents about anthroposophy at the onset. Even mentioning the word would be a start- the school ours were at didn't mention it, in promotional ,aterial or spoken. they didn't mention reincarnation, karma, spirit worlds, clairvoyance, souls, occult science either.
Sorry Raconteur, this isn't aimed personally at you , you understand! It's something the organistation has to deal with, otherwise, they find atheist parents, who were sold a holistic, creative education, very angry at being lied to.
I would question whether schools are now being upfront, as you say. You only have to read experiences here to see that isn't so.

The studying a book by Steiner to "explore pedagogical questions" is interesting, because the only pedagogy explored is one man's. Most people's think of pedagogy as ideas of education and instruction generally, not based on the hudred year old clairvoyant visions of their guru.

Would you say the personal spiritual path of the teacher holds as much importance as the teaching of the children? This was the impresion I got quite often.

I hope I haven't come accross as too feisty, as I'm prone to do, it isn't meant!

Thankyou for replyingsmile

Janni Sun 27-Apr-08 12:04:51

Yes, thank you raconteur.

I would like to add that teachers should not shield parents from the underlying philosophy or wait until they're ready to hear it. When you become a Steiner parent you put yourself outside the mainstream, you make a commitment which has a huge impact on your life and it's very unfair of a school to allow parents to do that on the basis of a very limited understanding.

Having said that, sites such as this have opened up the subject in a way which was quite unavailable to me and others when our children started at Steiner. I tried asking other parents at the school, but because they were 'in' they said it was all good.

It can only be in the schools' interest to be very open and upfront with parents because then you will get children from families who actively support your philosophy rather than trying to live a fragmented life and not fitting in anywhere.

DianaW Sun 27-Apr-08 15:27:39

I want to say thanks to Raconteur also for the genuine attempt at openness and dialogue - it definitely is very much appreciated!

I have a couple of questions that I will try to formulate succinctly recognizing that she will clearly be overwhelmed by volleys of questions . . .

First though just wanted to say a couple of things:

1) I never did teacher training, but worked as an aide in three different Waldorf kindergartens. We (I and the other aides) were told very explicitly not to discuss anthroposophy with parents; it "puts people off." If parents had questions about Steiner or anthroposophy we were to refer them to senior faculty (who were, of course, Steiner trained).

2) The whole notion of treading very gently with parents as regards Steiner is deeply, deeply offensive and wrong. Of course some parents don't want to know. Those are the ones who most need to know. It is reprehensible - ethically wrong - for the faculty to say to themselves, "Well, they don't want to know." It is self-serving. The point is to keep the children in the school by keeping the parents uninformed = comfortable with things they don't understand. IT IS WRONG. Those are the parents who, if they heard the details and were unhappy, SHOULD take their children out of the school. The underlying notion is at all costs keep the children in the school. The belief, of course, is noble and well intentioned - that Steiner education adn anthroposophy are so wonderful and ideal for everyone.

The problem is that not everyone who encounters anthroposophy and comes to really understand much about it in depth agrees that it is wonderful. Parents MUST have the details. Those who then withdraw, should withdraw - THAT is the correct outcome, not keeping their children in the system based on the parents' ignorance.

Sorry if this offends some parents as well - the whole vast contingent of "Well it works for my child at the moment so I don't want to hear about Ahriman or reincarnation" etc.

DianaW Sun 27-Apr-08 15:28:03

Well, I was trying not to write too much and didn't succeed I'll pipe down for awhile.

barking Sun 27-Apr-08 15:44:21

Hi Raconteur - you posted the following on the 4 march on the other steiner thread:
I looked to see if there is really any objective information about this stuff...there is actually a whole DFES study of Steiner education, 208 pages of it!

It's actually quite positive, and there's a really interesting comparison with state schools (pros and cons).

This BBC news article seems interesting, too:

Or, for those of us who prefer the Independent! -and-what-were-his-revolutionary-teaching-ideas-433407.html

It seems like a really good idea to go to news reports, studies and that sort of thing."

I've noticed that TheBee/Eva52 has posted identical links in another thread.

northernrefugee39 Sun 27-Apr-08 16:26:23

Diana, thanks for that post, it echoes precisely how I feel about

Barking, the Woods report which Raconteur and later thebee refer to, is very biased towards "spirituality" and I would say biased full stop.

The press seem to be as hoodwinked as the parents.
I get the feeling that the Steiner/anthro machine works very carefully to make sure only positive images are portrayed.

Janni Sun 27-Apr-08 16:33:21

very well said, Diana

Raconteur Sun 27-Apr-08 16:39:11

Well, this is a little tragi-comical. Part of the above consists of calls for Steiner teachers to bring more information to parents and another part is criticizing having parent education programs. Maybe its just the wording, but teachers usually consider bringing information to be one aspect of education. So how do we bring them up to date about the education and the spiritual philosophy out of which it arose without educating them?

Of course, teachers should avoid patronizing parents. But one of the most positive aspects of a good Steiner school is that it becomes a learning community where everyone is educating everyone else. Perhaps that's the gold standard; if a teacher thinks s/he can educate parents but they have nothing to teach her/him, it's really unhealthy. To be honest, I'm not sure this aspect of a learning community has permeated Steiner education sufficiently, which might explain feelings that there is a condescending approach sometimes. On the other hand, state education is usually so far from a learning community as possible, though I know some great exceptions to this (hear, hear!).

So, yes, non-patronizing information/education is important. Thanks for the links to the articles, barking. It helps so much (me, too!) to see these kinds of things. Here's another, from an American journalist:

I might not get to questions quite as quickly the next few son's birthday is coming up!

northernrefugee39 Sun 27-Apr-08 16:50:50

I think one thing which could clear things up considerably Raconteur would be if anthroposophy was mentioned, explained and put in the promotional material.
It could be brought into the initial interview, particularly if asked about,rather than skimmed over, or deflected
When asked, teachers could actually answer quesstions straight, rather than "Steiner is difficult"

I would say that the phrase "educating the parents" holds a very different meaning to "informing", wouldn't you?

barking Sun 27-Apr-08 16:52:23

Thats ok Raconteur smile
I've noticed you've only posted on the two steiner threads.
How did you stumble into mumsnet?

northernrefugee39 Sun 27-Apr-08 16:52:26

" So how do we bring them up to date about the education and the spiritual philosophy out of which it arose without educating them?"

Umm, semantics here. You tell them the truth?

northernrefugee39 Sun 27-Apr-08 16:57:56

Raconteur, the article you posted, that doesn't mention anthroposophy either does it?
Or reincarnation, spirit worlds, temperaments or any of the other stuff?

PeteK Sun 27-Apr-08 16:59:18

"Any racial theory - by anyone - that claims that certain races are inferior or superior offends me deeply. Most anthroposophists, though, have only run into Steiner's statements about needing to overcome all prejudice (gender, race, etc.) and the need for all peoples to work together - that all together are important for the whole of humanity, each having special gifts to bring. You have to realize that this is what you find in his most well-known writings; the weird comments (of which there are, alas, plenty) are mostly in works that your average teacher, or even dedicated anthroposophist, either has never read or maybe has read once many years ago."

This is an interesting point that, I suppose, could be made if the internet didn't exist. Certainly, ANY Steiner discussion list will have some discussion on the topic of Steiner's views on racism. But, I'd like to give you the benefit of the doubt here. Just as an exercise, would you mind posting a list of the materials you were required to read during teacher training? I'm sure it would be helpful to us here to see exactly WHAT teachers are required to read during teacher training.

"Olympic games? Yes, our school takes part in these; the children of various schools join together in mixed teams to "compete". "

Thank you Raconteur. We just had the Olympic games (Pentathlon) here and I want to discuss these games in some detail on the Steiner thread as I believe they set the stage for acceptance of Steiner's racist thinking in Waldorf students. I hope you will find time to monitor that discussion as well.

"The press seem to be as hoodwinked as the parents.
I get the feeling that the Steiner/anthro machine works very carefully to make sure only positive images are portrayed."

Yes, even as a parent, I was hoodwinked for years (as were many of us). Putting on a dog-and-pony show for an article would be no problem for Waldorf... it's part of their PR routine. They would show reporters exactly what they show parents. That's why when we get the occasional gushing report about Waldorf, those of us who have experienced the facade know exactly where that is coming from.

DianaW Sun 27-Apr-08 17:00:14

I believe Northern is reacting to exactly what you put your finger on, Raconteur - parents DO want and need information, but it must not be offered patronizingly - THAT is perhaps the real source of the impression that "some parents don't want to know." There is a huge difference between giving parents the facts and perspective on teh overall picture that they need, which is really quite cut and dried - anthroposophy is the driving force at the school - that's practically all that need be said! - versus paternalistically "educating" parents, which takes the form of such things as I'm sure you're familiar with - teachers scolding parents about "warmth" and crap like that, giving stupid useless advice like "light candles at bedtime" for serious problems - this is why parents turn away and act like they "dont want to know."

The other big issue is the timing. Facts about anthroposophy need to be offered before the family enrolls. This is a huge difference from having little seminars on watercolor painting on Tuesday nights through the school year or something, which is often what passes for "parent education."

northernrefugee39 Sun 27-Apr-08 17:01:56

Pete, The Olympics.. I want to hear more, how is it the foundation stone of his racist beliefs?

PeteK Sun 27-Apr-08 17:03:39

"Well, this is a little tragi-comical. Part of the above consists of calls for Steiner teachers to bring more information to parents and another part is criticizing having parent education programs. Maybe its just the wording, but teachers usually consider bringing information to be one aspect of education. So how do we bring them up to date about the education and the spiritual philosophy out of which it arose without educating them?"

Ranconteur, I tried to bold the word prospective in my post but I see you may have missed it. Prospective parents need to be informed. After parents have shelled our their tuition is not the time to let them in on the secret. How are prospective parents going to get the "education" about Waldorf schools if the schools aren't up-front INITIALLY.

Janni Sun 27-Apr-08 17:05:49

Yes, before the family enrols. Removing a child from any school is A BIG DEAL and it would save a lot of heartache if parents knew what they were getting into BEFORE they signed on the dotted line.

northernrefugee39 Sun 27-Apr-08 17:11:45

When the family asks pertinant qestions for instance....
And they are given a litle secret,we know best, don't worry litle smile...
When they are told "Oh, well.. we only take what we want from Steiner!" Silly parent!

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