It is with a sinking heart that I write this post. Last summer, my son graduated from Aberdeen (in politics and international relations). He enjoyed his time there. It’s a wonderful place with some very distinguished alumni. It’s had a good reputation in science and medicine.
So why has the University of Aberdeen been dabbling in the mystical barmpottery of the Steiner cult?
According to a rumour on twitter yesterday, the university has avoided making an idiot of itself. Nonetheless there are lessons to be learned from this episode and it needs to be recorded for posterity.
The University of Aberdeen owes a huge debt to James Gray who, more than anyone else, revealed the facts about their anthroposophical involvement. They should give him an honorary degree.
Aberdeen has two connections with the Steiner movement. One is the BA (Hons) in Social Pedagogy. The other is a potentially more dangerous proposal to establish a chair in anthroposophical "medicine" in return for large donations, partly from Germany.
The BA (Hons) Social Pedagogy appears on the university’s web site, though I’m told that it isn’t running this year. I’ve applied under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 to see exactly what’s taught. But James Gray has already revealed the gist of it on his blog, Heavenly beings and astral forces: the real meaning of ‘social pedagogy’. Does the vice-chancellor believe in astral forces and reincarnation? I doubt it, so why does he allow this sort of nonsense to be taught to hapless students?
The Dunlop chair of Integrative Health Care and Management
The word "integrative" is (US version of) the euphemism that is currently fashionable among quacks in an attempt to make alternative medicine sound respectable. Is the University not aware of that? See Prince of Wales Foundation for magic medicine: spin on the meaning of ‘integrated’.
The print media caught up with bloggers at last, with a rather good article by Paul Jump in Times Higher Education this week, Aberdeen looks to feather its nest in a field dubbed ‘pure quackery’. This article doesn’t feature in the University’s media list, though a visit from the Prince of Wales’ wife does (she will, no doubt, approve).
Documents obtained by James Gray show that reveal that Dr Stefan Geider, co-ordinator of the Anthroposophic Health, Education and Social Care Movement (AHaSC) and anthroposophical doctor at Camphill Aberdeen, proposed that the University host a centre for anthroposophic medicine in 2010.
Some of the documents have (temporarily I hope) vanished from James Gray’s site. Luckily I have copies of them
- Starter paper and draft invitation to tender. This shows the proposals have been around at last since April 2010.
- Draft job description for Dunlop Chair
- Governance and Nominations Committee paper
- Professor Mike Greaves’s response
James Gray obtained the job description for the proposed chair. It says
"The University of Aberdeen, College of Life Sciences and Medicine, School of Medicine and Dentistry seeks to appoint a Professor of Integrative Health Care and Management (Dunlop Chair)."
The job is described with the usual weasel words about world class research. But read on and you find
"To develop collaboration within the [insert appropriate division please] and with the School of Education
particularly regarding BA in Social Pedagogy "
And, under ‘essential knowledge skills and experience’,
- In depth knowledge of and practice experience in the system of anthroposophic medicine as an integrative
- Strong track record of applied and methodological research published in leading peer-reviewed journals
What’s amazing about this, apart from the obvious incompatibility of these two requirements, is that the job description was approved by none other than Professor Mike Greaves, head of the College of Life Sciences and Medicine. On 12 December 2011, Professor Greave comments "This looks OK to me".
It is astonishing that high-ranking medical people in the university seem to be totally unaware of the nature of the Steiner movement, and the mumbo jumbo of anthroposophical medicine. Does Professor Greaves really believe in reincarnation? Does he think that mistletoe is an appropriate treatment for cancer?
After reading James Gray’s blog, Will Aberdeen University give green light to anthroposophic medicine centre?, I wrote to the vice chancellor, Professor Ian Diamond, and others, as follows.
Dear Professor Diamond
I was pleased to hear that Aberdeen was reconsidering the “social pedagogy” course. I was also pleased to see that someone appreciates the extreme reputation risk that this poses to Aberdeen’s reputation in medical sciences. I have no doubt that Hans Kosterliz, whom I knew well, would be turning in his grave if he were aware of the proposal that to appoint a Dunlop chair. You would go from Lasker prize to booby prize in a couple of decades.
This summer. my son graduated from Aberdeen (in a quite different area), and I don’t want the value of his degree to be tainted by the ridicule that will be poured on his alma mater for teaching about “astral forces”.
I was astounded by Professor Greaves assertion that “The College of Life Sciences and Medicine wish to establish a Chair in Integrative Health Care and Management”. Has Prof Greaves not seen the nature of the material advocated by these people? I simply can’t believe that this sort of stuff is supported by your scientists. May I suggest that the university should conduct a secret ballot among it’s many good medical scientists. They are the people whose reputation will be besmirched if this development were to go ahead. I realise that it can’t be expected that those who run the university can be aware of what’s taught on all the courses, so I suggest that the ballot should contain references to James Gray’s blog (you should be very grateful to him for doing a job which should really have been done by the validation committee). You might also wish to refer the committee and governors to the three scholarly guest posts on my own blog that analyse the bizarre cult-like nature of the Steiner movement and the sheer dangerous quackery of “anthroposophical medicine”.
The true nature of Steiner (Waldorf) education. Mystical barmpottery at taxpayers’ expense. Part 1
The Steiner Waldorf cult uses bait and switch to get state funding. Part 2.
Steiner Waldorf Schools Part 3. The problem of racism
None of this is apparent in the official documents revealed here, but it should be.
It is astonishing that the documents should refer to “hospital centres such as The Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (RLHIM)” as though that were a recommendation. Are you not aware that most of the RLHIM building is occupied by real medicine: the homeopaths etc have been reduced to small rump? Are are you not aware of how often the RLHIM has been condemned by the Advertising Standards Authority because of the false claims it makes?
It is equally astonishing that the documents should say “Aberdeen would be the first university outside central Europe and the first in the UK to establish a chair in this area” as though that were a recommendation, rather a giant step back to 19th century medicine and mysticism. There are very good reasons why other universities do not have a chair like that which you are proposing.
I hope that, when considering this proposal, you will consider very seriously the damage to your reputation that would be incurred by taking money from organisations with such an obvious axe to grind. It will be all over the blogs, and then the newspapers if you were to go ahead. It is not unknown, even in the USA, for universities to turn down donations. Florida State University turned down $10m that someone wished to donate to found a chiropractic college, though admittedly only after one of their own eminent chemistry professors posted the attached picture. Is that really the sort of reputation that you want for Aberdeen?
I’m preparing my own blog post on the matter, but I won’t put it up until I have had a response from you.
Well, I have had no response from Professor Diamond, so I’m going to post it now.
Again, all has been revealed by James Gray.
"The correspondence shows that millions of pounds has been pledged by anthroposophical organisations to fund the Centre’s work. The bulk (£1.5m) will come from the foundation of the Raphael Centre, a private anthroposophical clinic in Kent that works with those suffering from complex neurological disabilities and from cancer. The Centre’s treatments include eurythmy, chiropractic, mistletoe therapy, oil-dispersion bath therapy and therapeutic hyperthermia.
A further €1.5m has been pledged by the Software AG Foundation. The Foundation – the charitable arm of a German software firm – funds various anthroposophical projects around the world, including the Steiner Academy in Hereford. (See Alicia Hamberg’s blog for more on Software AG’s relationship with anthroposophy.)"
It’s fascinating that the Hereford Steiner Academy tried to disguise the source of its funding.
According to a rumour on Twitter, the University has decided not to proceed with the chair. And I was also told that the BA (Hons) Social Pedagogy degree is not in fact running this year. Will that be abandoned too?
If the rumour is right, one wonders what Stefan Geider will say in his talk. "Head, Heart and Hands: Dunlop Centre for Integrative Health Care and Management”, at the anthroposophists’ conference in New Lanark (22 – 24 May). Incidentally it’s worrying that this conference appears to be sponsored by "NHS National Services Scotland".
Although, if the rumour is correct, the University has made the right decision in the end, it is worrying that serious academics in dark suits have spent two years discussing the matter, The proper reaction would have been, when the proposal was first made, to say "you must be joking, this is a medical school". That would have saved endless time spent in meetings to discuss what’s obviously a preposterous proposal. But according to the documents that Gray revealed, it seems very likely that it would have gone through if it were not for the fuss raised by bloggers. Can these senior academics not use Google? Why weren’t they aware of the nature of their proposals?
The really bad interpretation of these events is that they were well aware that they were promoting dangerous pseudo-science, but allowed themselves to be blinded to that fact by the sight of large cheques. Donations of almost £3 million can have a hypnotic effect on vice-chancellors. I do hope that isn’t the case. It would be even worse than the only alternative that I can see, and that is that senior managers can’t distinguish between pseudo-science and real science.
Watch this space for further developments.
28 April 2012. The comments on Paul Jump’s article in Times Higher Education seem to have disappeared. You can still see them, as of 08.49 this morning, in the Google cache, preserved at freezepage.com.
29 April 2012. Comments now restored at Times Higher, and a new one from Ben Goldacre
"Senior people from Aberdeen University reading this comment thread should take note of exactly who supports them: anonymous unnamed shouters who offer only childish abuse and dishonest personal smears. These are your allies now. It is downhill from here"
Robin McKie and Lauura Hartmann cover the Aberdeen scandal nicely in the Observer: Holistic unit will ‘tarnish’ Aberdeen University reputation. But they fail totally to acknowledge their sources, in particular James Gray. That is pretty smelly journalistic ethics.
3 May 2012. As so often, the last word on the scandal of Aberdeen’s flirtation with the endarkenment has come from Laurie Taylor, in Times Higher Education.
“Hands off our northeastern Scottish colleagues.”
That was the vigorous response of Janet Fluellen, our Director of Curriculum Development, to all those critics who have lined up to attack the University of Aberdeen’s proposed chair in alternative medicine.
Ms Fluellen admitted that she was not “totally familiar” with the anthroposophical basis of the new post, or indeed with the manner in which this distinctive philosophy allowed for the complex interplay between physiological and spiritual processes in healing. Neither was she “thoroughly au fait” with the empirical basis for the discipline’s claim to cure cancer with the use of mistletoe.
She did, however, feel that “a proper university” should always be open to “new, exciting disciplines”, and instanced our own university’s Department of Rectal Communication, which had gone “from strength to strength in recent years under the exemplary leadership of Professor D.C. Butt”.
She reminded our reporter Keith Ponting (30) that there had been widespread scepticism about a discipline that stressed the psychological importance of shifting the site of consciousness from the cortex to the rectum. But advances in thermal imaging had now confirmed many of the discipline’s original claims about the crucial part played by the rectum in unconscious communication.
Professor Butt himself told Ponting that he appreciated Ms Fluellen’s “vote of confidence” in his discipline.
“In the early days, I was one of the very few people in UK universities who made a habit of speaking through my arse. But even a cursory survey of higher education today would show that the practice has now become widespread. That itself is a great testament to the discipline of rectal communication.”
8 May 2012
It seems the rumour was true. It seems that this mail was sent only internally. It will be interesting to see what public announcement is made.
Subject: Update on proposed Chair in Integrative Health Care Management
As some of you may be aware from press reports and social media, the University’s Governance and Nominations Committee met today to consider a proposal to establish a Chair in Integrative Health Care Management.
The statement below gives the Committee’s decision and how this was reached:
The University has decided not to take forward a current proposal to establish a Chair in Integrative Health Care Management.
Following discussion and consideration of the issues involved, the University’s Governance and Nominations Committee agreed that given the need for sustainability of funding for the longer-term, the University could not satisfy its requirement for the highest standards of scientific rigour with the funding model proposed, in particular the aspirations of potential donors to establish a Centre of Complementary Medicine.
The Committee further agreed that research to investigate the evidence base for the effectiveness or otherwise of complementary therapies in the treatment of disease was a legitimate academic endeavour, provided that it could be supported by sustainable and unrestricted academic research funding.
The dropping of this daft proposal was undoubtedly a triumph for bloggers, especially James Gray. My guess is that if there had been no fuss, the money would have been taken quietly. Of course it wouldn’t have stayed quiet for long. It amazes me just how ignorant of the blogosphere some senior academics seem to be.
The statement is, I must say, pretty disgraceful. It makes no admission at all that anthroposophy is a nonsensical mystical cult. All universities, in fact all big organisations, engage in this sort of dishonest doublespeak, but it’s particularly unpleasant when universities do it. They have done the right thing, probably for more or less the right reasons, but then give false reasons. I suppose they do this to try to save face. In fact it has the opposite effect.
11 May 2012. Paul Jump, in Times Higher Education, reported on the official withdrawal: Aberdeen decides against alternative medicine chair. He quotes form this letter, sent to Aberdeen’s VC on the day the annuncement was made public.
Dear Professor Diamond and Mr Purdon,
Thanks for sending the press release. Actually I got it last night (I have a lot of friends in Aberdeen since my son graduated there last summer).
I posted it on my blog, at http://www.dcscience.net/?p=5261#080512
As you see, I am delighted to see that you made the right decision. But, if I may say so, the wording of your press release is a bit of a PR disaster.
It is almost incomprehensible and (as you see from the comments too), rather than protecting your reputation, it invites laughter. All you had to do was to say something like “we have decided that a chair of anthroposophical medicine is not appropriate in a medical school and we shall therefore decline the offer of funding for the chair”. That would have been simple, it would (I imagine) be true and it would have brought credit on the university.
It’s true that for anyone who knew about anthroposophy, the decision should have taken 5 minutes not two years, but no need to emphasize that in the press release.
I do hope, quite seriously, that you consider offering an honorary degree to James Gray. It was, above all. his blog that saved Aberdeen for making a dreadful mistake, His blog (I imagine), and mine (certainly) were not intended to denigrate the university, but to save it from denigrating itself.
13 May 2012. A letter was published in the Observer from a group of people who are concerned about Michael Gove’s policy on Steiner schools [download as pdf]
Schools of pseudoscience pose a serious threat to education
Maharishi and Steiner schools are just as dangerous as creationist schools
A lot of public concern has been expressed over the potential establishment of creationist free schools. This concern resulted in the government changing the rules for free schools to prevent them from teaching pseudoscience (“Richard Dawkins celebrates a victory over creationists“).
However, not enough attention has been paid to two equally grave threats to science education, namely Maharishi and Steiner schools. Maharishi schools follow the educational methods of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru of the transcendental meditation movement, while Steiner education is based on an esoteric/occultist movement called anthroposophy, founded by Austrian mystic Rudolf Steiner (“Holistic unit will ‘tarnish’ Aberdeen University reputation“). The Maharishi school has as its specialist subject the “science of creative intelligence”, which is not based on science. It also teaches a system of herbal medicine, most of which lacks evidence of efficacy and safety. Anthroposophy is centred on beliefs in karma, reincarnation and advancing children’s connection to the spirit world.
The first Steiner academy opened in 2008, with a free school to open this September. The first Maharishi school opened last September. Both groups have interviews to open more schools in 2013. We believe that the new rules on teaching pseudoscience mean that no more of these schools should open.
Pavan Dhaliwal head of public affairs, British Humanist Association; Edzard Ernst professor of complementary medicine, Exeter University; David Colquhoun professor of pharmacology, University College London and blogger, dcscience.net; Simon Singh science writer; Andy Lewis Quackometer.net; Alan Henness zenosblog.com; Melanie Byng; Richard Byng medical academic; James Gray; Mark Hayes; David Simpson
This is part 2 of a critique of Steiner Waldorf schools. Part 1 was The true nature of Steiner (Waldorf) education. Mystical barmpottery at taxpayers’ expense. Part 1
The part 3 is Steiner Waldorf Schools Part 3. The problem of racism.
This essay is largely devoted to the methods used by the Steiner movement in the hope of getting state funding. That involves concealing from ministers and inspectors some of the less desirable aspects of the cult. That is sadly easy to do, because ministers and inspectors usually use a tick box approach that can easily be corrupted (just have a look, for example, at what goes on at the University of Wales). It is a classical case of bait and switch, a method that was used by chiropractors and acupuncturists to pervert the normally high standards of NICE. The technique is standard in alternative medicine, as described by the excellent Yale neurologist Steven Novella, in The Bait and Switch of Unscientific Medicine..
Steiner’s bible of the cult, 1905
The involvement of a few universities with Steiner training is every bit as disgraceful as their involvement with quack medicine, In fact Anthroposophical medicine is among the barmier forms of quackery.
Here is part 2 of the essay by two of the most knowledgeable people on the topic. They are known on Twitter as @thetismercurio and @lovelyhorse_.
Steiner Waldorf Free Schools – ‘Do we have to mention Steiner, or Anthroposophy?’
At the time of writing we are aware of 16 Steiner Waldorf schools and new initiatives in the UK applying for or publicly expressing interest in Free School Funding. The established schools are:
- Brighton Steiner School
- Cambridge Steiner School
- Elmfield Steiner ‘Academy’ Stourbridge (see weekly news sheet)
- Exeter Steiner School
- Meadow School, Bruton, Somerset
- Michael House, Steiner Waldorf School, Derbyshire
- Norwich Steiner School
- Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley, Hertfordshire
- Rudolf Steiner School South Devon
- St Michael Steiner School, Wandsworth
- St Paul’s Steiner School, Islington
Initiatives & kindergartens:
- Mulberry Tree kindergarten, South Gloucestershire
- Beachtree kindergartens Leeds
- Cragg Vale, near Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire
The umbrella organisation for Steiner Waldorf schools in the UK is the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship. The Chief Executive Director of the SWSF is Christopher Clouder but another prominent figure is Development Director Sylvie Sklan. As representatives of the SWSF they have been the plausible public face of Anthroposophy, working for many years within the establishment to create the conditions for wholesale public funding of Steiner Waldorf schools in the UK. As pragmatists they see Michael Gove’s Free Schools Initiative as the Movement’s big chance.
We will take you into the woods to show how the Steiner edifice of nonsense has been obscured by smoke and mirrors. A government report indicates the truth, but the schools themselves are reluctant to share their Special Knowledge.
Into the Woods. A government report, and a very special inspection service
There is no independent evidence to support the pedagogy of Steiner Waldorf education. But supporting the funding of the Steiner Academy Hereford, the only state funded Steiner school to date (created under New Labour), is a government report from 2005, The Woods Report ‘Steiner Schools in England’. Mike Collins of UK Anthroposophy, home to some meticulous investigative work, demonstrates how the Woods Report describes Steiner Waldorf as Anthroposophical education.
In fact the Report’s authors are unusually candid about the occult nature of Steiner schools. They also, elsewhere, make no secret of their own immersion in the ‘spiritual’ assuming a common understanding of that ambiguous word, a word which is rarely defined. But whether or not they are themselves to any degree adherents of Anthroposophy, they clearly believe that education would benefit from Steiner’s spiritual vision, stating in the Forum Journal in 2006:
"The point is that Steiner education offers a distinctive process of opening and nurturing children and educating the whole child in the twenty-first century."
There is, in the Woods Report, an elaboration of the pivotal role of karma and reincarnation [p93] a description of the use of ‘temperaments’ to classify children [p89] and of the variance in the precise nature of allegiance to Anthroposophy amongst teachers [p94] (as observed in our first post: reflecting the nature of an esoteric religion). But ‘Steiner says’ is nevertheless the dominant code:
"Steiner’s lectures are referred to and teachers constantly update themselves on the pedagogical principles outlined by Steiner, testing these in the practice of collegial discussion.” [p105]"
This should be no surprise:
“Steiner education takes a particular perspective and entails a set of practices which relate to each other in order to give Steiner schools their character. These include the role of the teacher understood as a sacred task in helping each child’s soul and spirit grow, which underpins the commitment to each pupil and is the basis of sustaining the class teacher-pupil relationship over eight years” [p120]
This may strike the reader as rather an unusual educational aim, especially if a school is not formally classed as a ‘faith’ or religious school. Would it not take sophistry to maintain that this is not an essentially religious impulse? (It does. p97/125/129) But we must remember that we are handicapped by our ignorance of Spiritual Science. The clue is given by one of the Steiner teachers quoted, who suggests what is needed is to:
“communicate to [the] wider educational community that in essence Steiner education is a spiritual approach beyond religion” [p116]
To do them justice, in other published work the Woods are cautious, although this problem strikes us as inevitable:
“None of this should be taken to mean that Steiner schools achieve their ideals or are entirely without their flaws. Many teachers, in our view, are too dependent on following the guidance and ideas of Steiner as if they were ‘sacred’ directions.” ‘In Harmony with the child’: Philip A Woods & Glenys J Woods: Forum 48/3 2006
The Woods Report ignores the consequences for children of teachers’ adherence to the anthroposophical belief in karma and reincarnation. It is obvious that the potential for harm has not been recognised, nor taken seriously by those who should have read the Report. Instead it has been accepted that because the pedagogy is ‘spiritual’ it must be good: and the Hereford Academy has been handed funds, allowed exemptions (including the freedom to teach Steiner’s ‘Goethean science’) and stands as the precedent for further expansion of Steiner Waldorf into the State sector.
What kind of barmpottery would be too extreme for the Woods? The fact that Glenys Woods maintains she is a Reiki Healer (Angelic and Atlantaen) suggests that her beliefs about what is real would seem extravagant to those working within even the most complex and nuanced concepts of modern neuroscience.
The Woods Report suggests that Anthroposophy should be better understood by educationalists and parents; the writers clearly believe that, as a spiritual entity, it is of value. But they also attempt to diffuse the presence of Anthroposophy by stating that the “curriculum is not designed to guide and encourage young people into becoming adherents of anthroposophy…” [p120] which may appear to lessen the obligation to know what it is. When we are told the disingenuous line: ‘Anthroposophy is not taught to the children”, we should not forget that it is not explained to prospective parents either, even if there may be a few (ill-attended & bewildering) study groups for parents who have already joined. It isn’t explained to the government officials who anyway appear so incurious, or to taxpayers. We have none of us earned the right to the Movement’s Special Knowledge.
But Ofsted understands this. It knows it is not qualified.
As of September 2009 Steiner schools in the UK have been inspected not by Ofsted, who used to do so but by the Schools Inspection Service. The SIS inspects only two types of schools: those run by the Exclusive Brethren and now Steiner Waldorf.
The lay Inspectors in each case are expected to understand the distinct character of the schools. In the case of Steiner Waldorf, they have all been connected in some way with Steiner schools or with the Anthroposophical Movement.
Ofsted, which we believe feels unqualified to understand the pedagogy, has effectively allowed Steiner Waldorf schools greater powers to inspect themselves.
Free school funding relies on these inspections: the results of which are rather more positive under the new regime.
The Hereford Steiner Academy – the Academy nobody wanted.
The only state funded Steiner school in the UK has already caused controversy. Francis Beckett wrote in the Guardian in 2008 that former director of education Eddie Oram had turned down initial plans submitted on his watch because “he did not think the Steiner staff had the right expertise to deal with pupils with individual needs.”
Oram’s proof of evidence: to the Public Inquiry for the original applications by the DCSF to build a new school for the Steiner Academy, is comprehensive. There is no need, no desire and no justification for such a school in Herefordshire, especially in the village of Much Dewchurch. The Project Lead for the DCSF, sponsoring the Academy, was the Rev. Mark Evans, a church of England priest on secondment to the Department. His proof of evidence glowed with praise for Dr. Steiner:
“The outcomes of this education can be seen in the quiet confidence of its pupils, their balanced approach to life and their capacity for innovative thinking.”
But the Rev. Evans produced no evidence for this assertion, nor did he mention karma, or reincarnation. This seems a significant omission; he was in all probability unaware of the nature of the pedagogy he was selling.
The Hereford Steiner Academy site does mentions Anthroposophy, although to find it involves a little searching. The assertion that “Anthroposophy is a developing body of research”, as stated here by Hereford, should rightly be disputed. Essentially Anthroposophy is dogma; gained through ‘clairvoyance’, inherited by studying Steiner’s words, comprehended by those ascending the ladder of esoteric Knowledge. But something has to be said about it, now the Movement is forced to do so.
The Steiner Academy followed one of the recommendations of the Woods Report: unusually for a Steiner school it has a Principal, Trevor Mepham. In a long exposition to ‘Herefordshire Life’ on the nature of Steiner Waldorf education, Mepham misses the chance to satisfy another of the Woods Report’s suggestions: he doesn’t explain, by name, the system’s fundamental credo.
Free School Hopefuls
The current group of Steiner Free School hopefuls vary in their willingness to discuss Anthroposophy. As an example, on the website of the Norwich Steiner School Anthroposophy is not mentioned, although in reality it is never absent. The Norwich curriculum policy describes the pedagogy without mentioning its essence but we catch stray glimpses of angelic forms. So, a moral aim is to cultivate ‘reverence’ for nature, the children stand not in a doorway but on a ‘threshold’ and ‘The narrative thread for Ancient civilisations often begins with the fall of Atlantis’.
In the March 2010 newsletter from Norwich (‘Talking Trees’) there is an observation by a class teacher which exemplifies the Steiner Waldorf attitude to less spiritual forms of education:
“I look at the children in Oak Class and see a luminosity that cannot be measured. When we do measure children, we diminish that luminosity. The world seems to be full of children whose inner light has been subdued, if not entirely extinguished.”
There is at the time of writing no mention of Anthroposophy on the website of the Rudolf Steiner School South Devon, except towards the end of the parents’ handbook. Although this is hard for outsiders to find, the handbook’s author still neglects to describe karma and reincarnation and includes the unusual proviso that this is ‘not a cult’. South Devon has stated on its site:
“The department [DofE] appears to be impressed by our application, in particular what they call our "strong educational vision". But before they can proceed to the next step they have asked to see stronger evidence of demand for Steiner education in the area, including from those outside the school community. They would prefer this to be in the form of a petition.”
Many of those who have agreed to sign the South Devon petition have done so in ignorance of even the name of the ‘philosophy’ that is so vital to the school, imagining that their plausible description of Steiner Waldorf is sufficient.
In a ‘circle meeting’ held at the South Devon School in 2008, found on the web, someone even asks the question: “Do we need to mention Steiner, or Anthroposophy?” It’s hard to lose the guru’s name without changing all the signs. But surely local people might be put off if they understood how the education at this school is intimately informed by the clairvoyant visions of the Mystic Barmpot. We’ve screenshot the site, in case there are any alterations.
This concern about mentioning Anthroposophy is driven by a fear that an undercurrent of critical analysis will become mainstream.
We trust we presented in our previous post a description of Steiner Waldorf Education that identifies the intrinsic role of Anthroposophy, making the system and its flaws intelligible, but we are not suggesting that our observations are original.
Not only have there been comprehensive posts about Steiner schools on the popular political blog Liberal Conspiracy (with much additional material from Unity, including the 5 Big Ideas of science that Steiner education can’t handle); there has been in the last few years an international stream of criticism from those who have experienced Waldorf pedagogy and its effects on families. Ex-parents, students and teachers of Steiner Waldorf schools have appeared on-line, seeking answers; making sense of their own distressing experiences, expressing bewilderment and anger and frequently offering support to others.
Their words appear on blogs, on internet forums and in the press in some countries, although no UK journalist has so far grasped the significance of their warnings. What should be reiterated is that it is difficult to make sense of an esoteric (hidden) philosophy in action, even if you have chosen to be involved at its aesthetically pleasing outer edges. For many parents, Waldorf is a form of bait and switch.
mumsnet: “You don’t expect a school to lie,”
In the New Schools Network document cited in our previous post, Free School hopefuls are advised how to advertise their projects: “Post something on mumsnet, netmums, or facebook.” If the NSN had done their homework, they would know that mumsnet Steiner threads have been so controversial (and incomprehensible to those not involved) that in 2008 parents were asked by mumsnet’s co-founder Justine Roberts not to post about Steiner education at all. Indeed the forum was threatened with legal action by Sune Nordwall, (also known as Thebee, Tizian, Excalibur, Mycroft etc) a Swedish anthroposophist; since discovered to be in the employment of the Swedish Waldorf School Federation. Blogger Alicia Hamberg aka zooey quotes (in translation):
“In England, the attacks on [waldorf] pedagogy have led to parents withdrawing their children from the waldorf schools. The [Swedish Waldorf School] Federation has employed Sune on a part-time basis to monitor the debate.”
We do not suggest on this blog that the Swedish Waldorf School Federation are responsible for or complicit in Nordwall’s activities on mumsnet or elsewhere, although as Alicia Hamberg points out, they have not sought to distance themselves from his behaviour. What is notable though is that representatives of Waldorf education in Sweden were concerned to monitor a UK debate held not in the press but in the relative obscurity of the supposedly safe, supportive world of mothers‘ chatrooms. The Steiner Waldorf movement understands the importance of a positive profile on the UK’s most influential meeting place for parents; the very people who form their customer base. But their tactics are counterintuitive. In anthro-speak everywhere, critics, the majority of whom are parents who have had children in Steiner schools, become attackers.
Even the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship’s Communications Officer Jeremy Smith felt drawn to issue a call-to-arms to rebuff those who dared to question Waldorf’s ‘good intentions’:
“I would be very grateful if teachers and parents who share these concerns would be willing to join me in posting replies to anti-Waldorf threads in an attempt to give a more accurate picture to the outside world of what Steiner education is all about. We are also co-ordinating this internationally through the European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in becoming involved.”
We invite them to answer us here, instead.
Stockholm University: “scientifically unacceptable… simply untrue”
There are other interesting comparisons with Sweden. A recent announcement that UK Free Schools will not be required to employ qualified teachers indicates that the UK is traveling in the opposite direction to Sweden which, in an attempt to raise standards has just introduced more stringent teacher training requirements for all its schools, including Waldorf (the state funding of which pre-dates Sweden’s own Free Schools experiment). Swedish Waldorf schools will have to apply for exemptions from these guidelines (as well as from new requirements regarding early years literacy and numeracy), since there are no university accredited Waldorf teacher training courses in Sweden.
Indeed the aspirations of Swedish anthroposophists suffered a blow in 2008 when Stockholm University closed the Waldorf teacher training courses in the Institute of Education it had recently taken over. The VC of Stockholm, Kåre Bremer, agreed with his Education Faculty that the Waldorf literature did not satisfy the University’s standards of “scientific validity” and that “Some of the content is not only scientifically unacceptable, it is simply untrue.”
Alicia Hamberg described the ensuing outcry from the Waldorf community; quoting the dean of the faculty of natural sciences and professor of bio-chemistry, Stefan Nordlund, who stated in a Swedish newspaper article:
“In parts, the students’ course literature is not simply unscientific. It is in fact dangerous, and it conveys misconceptions which are worse than muddled. We are supported by the department of natural sciences as well as the department of humanities in taking this position.”
A relaxation of teaching qualifications here in the UK is essential if Steiner Free Schools are to be given the green-light, since the UK’s only Steiner BA and the Foundation Course in Steiner Early Years education at the University of Plymouth are also closing. Plymouth’s new VC, Prof Wendy Purcell, herself a scientist, can claim credit for ejecting the Mystic Barmpot from her faculty of education. It is certainly true that the course didn’t attract sufficient numbers to be viable, even though it appears that Steiner trainee teachers were supported by the beneficence of a ‘godparents anthroposophical training fund.’
Mike Collins posted a fascinating investigative report into the Plymouth closures in November last year. At the time of writing this, a representative of the University told us that they have no plans to reintroduce Steiner teacher training.
However: in a plot twist which links both countries, it is not Stockholm University (which had rejected their Steiner courses for being unscientific) but the University of Plymouth which is accrediting a European Masters Programme in Eurythmy, described as an anthroposophical ‘dance form’: in collaboration with Rudolf Steiner University College Järna, 50 km South of Stockholm. Except that Rudolf Steiner College, Järna is not regarded as a university college by the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education, nor can it issue formally recognized degrees. We do not imagine that anyone at Plymouth outside the dwindling Steiner BA is familiar with eurythmy, or its therapeutic arm, curative eurythmy.
One of the aims of the European Masters course is: “to place Eurythmy in the context of modern education,” but this can only apply to Waldorf.
Eurythmy is a physical expression of Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophical image of the relationship between the ‘spirit’ and the physical worlds. It is steeped in the supernatural. Of course what is happening in reality as participants sway and dash is not exactly what eurythmists imagine is happening, as anyone familiar with CAM will understand. But an intention clearly exists. Once again, in Steiner Waldorf schools, there is that anthroposophical concern for the ‘incarnating’ child. As Steiner told his teachers:
“You cannot teach anthroposophy directly to children but they can do eurythmy. And they will face life in quite a different way than if they didn’t do eurythmy.”
From “Times of Expectation: New Forms of Ancient Beauty out of the World of the Spirit.” Lecture, Dornach, 7th October 1914 (final section). Steiner introduces eurythmy to the anthroposophists
Where are the teachers to come from for these new UK Steiner Free Schools? More to the point: will taxpayers have any access to the content of their courses?
Waldorf Critics: criticism and scandal
Steiner Waldorf causes scandals across the world. In Norway earlier this year, Kristín Sandberg and Trond Kristoffersen, both former Steiner Waldorf teachers, published their book: "What They Don’t Tell Us = The Occult Foundation of the Steiner School." They have been part of a fierce debate, subject to threats from certain elements of the Steiner community, but Kristin is positive. What really matters to her, she says, are the many messages of support:
What They Don’t Tell Us. The Occult Foundation of the Steiner School
In Germany too, Steiner Waldorf has many critics. It’s interesting to reflect on the German Waldorf demographic, which suggests that their appeal lies in their status as ‘elite’ (although not academically elite) institutions.
In Australia, the introduction of ‘Steiner’ streams into public schools in the State of Victoria: ‘The Steiner Cult’s Grab for Schools’ has caused great controversy (see The delusional world of Rudolf Steiner). A document by the Australian Rationalist Society mirrors our initial post. After serious concerns were raised in a government report as long ago as 2000, and ignored; great division has been caused between parents in the schools involved and academic standards have proved to be low. Australian newspaper reports rehearse what will be in the news in the UK if Free School funding goes ahead for Steiner Waldorf. To quote from The Age:
“One parent, who did not wish to be named, said she moved her son out of the school after a Steiner teacher recommended he repeat prep "because his soul had not been reincarnated yet".
"I just don’t believe it is educationally sound," she said.”
Humanists are not the only Waldorf critics in Australia: some worry that Anthroposophy doesn’t sit happily with their Christian beliefs. Plus, independent Steiner schools have been accused of misappropriating Federal grants designed for new classrooms and libraries. It’s tempting to ask what use anthroposophists have for books.
In New Zealand, flaws in the accountability of independent schools compounds one family’s alarming treatment at the Titirangi Steiner School. Whether or not their experience is a direct consequence of Steiner pedagogy, the school’s reported ineptitude, delaying tactics and exclusion of children reflects behaviour familiar to many other Steiner Waldorf parents.
But by far the most well-known site for analysis of Steiner Waldorf is the US based PLANS: People for Legal and Non-Sectarian Schools, an organization which opposes the presence of religious schools: Steiner Waldorf, informed by Anthroposophy, in American public education. It is difficult to imagine that any UK government intending to spend millions on funding a school system within Academy or Free Schools funding (and concerned with a responsibility to children regardless of the mantra ‘parent choice’) can have entirely overlooked the presence of such criticism, or of the existence of a Waldorf Survivors’ Group. Indeed, if they read the Woods Report, they will find PLANS featured there. (p35)
There are clues to the reasons for the generally positive Waldorf press in the US in a series of posts by artist and animation art director Carol Wyatt:
“The vast majority of parents at PWS [Pasadena Waldorf School] work in entertainment. Actors, producers, art directors, writers, and all others in TV, film and technology. Almost all tuitions are paid for by media. They could not function without our industry.”
The most comprehensive (and readable) critical guide to Anthroposophy’s relationship to Steiner Waldorf schools is at Roger Rawling’s ‘Waldorf Watch’. Rawlings was for many years a pupil at a New York Waldorf school, so he’s familiar with how it feels to be inside the system. His pages on Karma, central to Steiner’s doctrines, as well as those on the background to Waldorf’s distinct attitude to Special Educational Needs (including the use of Curative Eurythmy) are particularly instructive.
Steiner Waldorf – “We must worm our way through”
Steiner Waldorf Schools all over the UK are applying for Free School funding. Millions could be diverted from local schools to support them. The decision to fund lies ultimately with the Secretary of State. We have every reason to believe that he is now personally aware of Anthroposophy, even of the critical role of karma and reincarnation within Steiner schools and the content of the course literature that forms a central part of Steiner Waldorf teacher training courses. We would like to ask him: who would be served by the funding of these schools? We do not believe it can be the children, or the families (many involved with hopeful, small initiatives) who do not understand what Steiner education really is. So, Mr Gove: cui bono?
“We must worm our way through…[I]n order to do what we want to do, at least, it is necessary to talk with the people, not because we want to, but because we have to, and inwardly make fools of them.”
Rudolf Steiner, Conferences with Teachers of the Waldorf School in Stuttgart, vol.1, 1919 to 1920 Forest Row, East Sussex, England: Steiner schools Fellowship Publications, 1986 [pp. 125]
Very sorry to see that the University of Aberdeen is running what seems to be a very dubious Steiner course.
The part 2 is The Steiner Waldorf cult uses bait and switch to get state funding. Part 2.
The part 3 is Steiner Waldorf Schools Part 3. The problem of racism.
I have to admit that until a few years ago I had thought of Steiner schools as being rather cuddly experiments in progressive education. Perhaps a bit like Montessori schools or A.S. Neill’s Summerhill School.
But then I discovered that they advocate "biodynamic farming". That includes utterly barmy doctrines about how the phase of the moon affects crops and such like astrological baloney (as well as some possibly sensible stuff about compost). Then I had a series of mails from a correspondent that made me realise that Steiner schools have some much more unpleasant ideas than a bit of astrological baloney, including the dangerous ideas about anthroposophical medicine.
Faceless dolls used in Steiner schools. Waldorfwatch comments "In part, the goal is to stimulate children’s imaginations, which Anthroposophists believe contribute to clairvoyance. The deeper reason is the Anthroposophical belief that young children are incompletely incarnated in the physical world — they still live partially in the spiritual world, where nothing has sharply defined limits, edges, or details.". " many children find faceless dolls creepy and unsatisfactory". . ." Sometimes, indeed, the dolls come with pointed “elf” hats sewn on, suggesting that these are not human dolls by gnome dolls. Steiner taught that gnomes are real", Picture from Senderling Waldorf School.
The matter has acquired new urgency now that Steiner schools are seeking government support via the Tory’s "free schools" programme. It is important that both ministers and parents should know what goes on in these schools.
I’ve wanted to write about it for a while, but was deterred by the sheer amount of information. My only contribution so far was to add Rudolf Steiner to my Patients’ Guide.
"Anthroposophical medicine: followers of the mystic barmpot, Rudolf Steiner, for whom nothing whatsoever seems to strain credulity"
Luckily I became acquainted with two of the most knowledgeable people on the topic. They are known on Twitter as @thetismercurio and @lovelyhorse_. After meeting them it occurred to me that I should ask them to write a guest post or two. Here is part one.
The true nature of Steiner Waldorf education
In a document produced this September by the New Schools Network, the (avowedly) politically neutral organisation set up to assist groups interested in Education Minister Michael Gove’s much vaunted and highly criticised Free Schools revolution, there is a question:
"..what do you want your school to be? A traditional school with a highly academic curriculum, setting and streaming? Or a school following the Montessori method or Steiner-Waldorf?"
This seems straightforward; in the case of Montessori it is so. The two school systems are often linked as ‘progressive’ alternatives but differ greatly. Montessori is a popular, predominantly early years education method, represented amongst the first wave of 16 Free Schools by the Discovery Free School, Crawley. Described as education adapted for each individual child, in the UK Montessori places itself within the remit of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) guidelines.
Steiner Waldorf schools are similarly called "child-centred" but are in reality underpinned by a fantastical edifice of nonsense which directs the teachers in the way they work with individual children. The schools have a distinct pedagogy in the context of which government guidelines are anathema; thus exemptions to the EYFS have been sought for the kindergartens at all Steiner settings. The Open Eye Campaign, championed by Steiner teacher Dr Richard House of Roehampton
University, stated in 2007 that they feared the EYFS was potentially harmful and ‘a breach of the human right of parents to have their children educated in accordance with their own philosophies’.
Few early years teachers reject the importance of play or would welcome an overly prescriptive regime, many support the review of the EYFS currently being undertaken by Dame Clare Tickell. But they may be surprised at the rhetoric of Richard House and Graham Kennish, Steiner teacher trainer and science advisor:
"Monoculture of children’s minds. Strip mining of children’s imaginative forces for short-term aims. The deep ploughing which destroys the soil and crushes individuality with heavy machinery. The application of fertiliser which turns childhood aspirations to dust which then blows away, leaving the barrenness of violence in adolescence. …. Education as the cultivation of inner resources for which an inner ecology is needed."
To make sense of this histrionic language, parents and policy makers must understand the philosophy that informs all Steiner Waldorf schools (Waldorf in the US and Europe): Anthroposophy. Wikipedia will not help here (it has been ‘cleansed’), parents who ask are told the literal meaning: ‘wisdom of man’. Anthroposophy’s inventor, Austrian Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) is presented by his proponents as a profound philosopher, a polymath; an expert in agriculture and architecture, medicine, social care, art and education. Triodos Bank, Camphill Communities, biodynamic agriculture (including wine) and the newly labelled ‘Social Pedagogy’ are all expressions of Steiner’s anthroposophical ideas. The first ‘Steiner’ school, named Waldorf after its cigarette factory patron, was opened in Stuttgart in 1919. With typical bravado the Movement has for some time proclaimed Waldorf ‘the fastest growing school system in the world’.
Applying Anthroposophy to his subject, Science Advisor Dr Graham Kennish can be read some time before the Open Eye Campaign asking the important questions:
"How valid is the current popular and medical perception of the heart as a pump? What sustains this model and how much is lost in maintaining it?"
And in his: Teaching Biology in a Human Context he describes Waldorf adolescents learning anatomy with a ‘sense of wholeness and meaning’.
Kennish was until recently the Science advisor for the University of Plymouth Steiner BA course (now closing) and is still featured on the University site as a researcher for the Steiner Waldorf Academy Research Network, linked to the only UK state funded Steiner Waldorf Academy, Hereford. Amongst the set texts at Plymouth (obtained through a recent FoI request) was a book called ‘Secrets of the Skeleton, Form in Metamorphosis’, the jaw-dropping fantasy of which presumably misled hosts of trainee Steiner Waldorf teachers. But this isn’t science: it’s Steiner’s ‘Spiritual Science’. As an advocate of this world view Dr Richard House made a plea in a comment on the TES website for an understanding of the supersensible world through Steiner’s ‘upgrading’ of science. But this is not, he suggests, for the intellectually lazy.
What is not mentioned by the Steiner teachers taking your child into their care is that Steiner was by the time he wrote and lectured about education an occultist, an ex-theosophist whose insights were gained, it is stated, through clairvoyance. Nor will they be honest about the core beliefs of Anthroposophy, described by historian Dr Peter Staudenmaier:
"Spiritual advancement through karma and reincarnation, supplemented by the access to esoteric knowledge available to a privileged few".
The influence of Anthroposophy on Steiner Waldorf education
The pedagogy of Waldorf schools is informed by Steiner’s esoteric scheme of karma and reincarnation. The child ‘incarnates’ in 7 year cycles: the ‘etheric’ body is born at 7, the astral body at 14 and the ‘ego’ or the individuality that returns from past lives, at 21. Abstract reasoning is discouraged too early (before 14) because it interferes with the anthroposophical – spiritual – vision of human development. If parents are surprised at this information, or believe it to be a charming metaphor, we know that Steiner advised his teachers to be coy:
"[W]e have to remember that an institution like the Independent Waldorf School with its anthroposophical character, has goals that, of course, coincide with anthroposophical desires. At the moment, though, if that connection were made official, people would break the Waldorf School’s neck."
Rudolf Steiner, Faculty Meetings with Rudolf Steiner (Anthroposophic Press, 1998) p. 115
In this interview the late Joan Salter, author of ‘The Incarnating Child’, (standard Waldorf recommended reading), explains the importance of her anthroposophical studies:
"JS: What appeals to me about Steiner is that he is thoroughly practical. We’re inclined to think of babies as children, but they have been old people. Our “little treasures” have been here many times. I think we need to be aware of this. You can see this if you observe the child. That is why I think observation is so important.
LM: Can you say more about this in relation to caring for young children?
JS: The reason we come here again is to redeem old karma and to establish new karma. We need to ask ourselves: If this is why the human being has come, how can we bring up the child, or what can we do, to help the child do this?
LM: That sounds like the key to parenting!"
The role of the Steiner kindergarten teacher is to facilitate the ‘incarnation’ of the spirits and souls of children into their physical bodies. If there is here a philosophy that the EYFS guidelines might “breach”: in our direct experience the significance and implications of this philosophy are inadequately understood by most Steiner parents. Teachers, if pressed, may repeat that ‘Anthroposophy is not taught to the children’ but this is disingenuous or naive. The transmission of Anthroposophy is subtle, through verses, stories and images. Every aspect of Steiner education is informed by Steiner’s clairvoyant ‘insight’ or ‘intuition’ and has occult implications. Thus the Waldorf categorisation of children according to their ‘temperaments’ and their ’soul type’, school readiness linked to the ‘change of teeth’, the dance form eurythmy, the oddly uniform artwork, the gnomes (or elementals) and the faceless dolls, are all embodiments of the anthroposophical impulse.
Labeling of children according to a spurious philosophy could be seen as insignificant were it not for the pedagogical response of those Steiner teachers who, instead of acknowledging a child’s real, individual emotions and behaviour, respond to body-type, hair colour, gait and ‘humour’ in formulaic (occult) and potentially detrimental ways.
The way Steiner Waldorf schools want classify your children (from openwaldorf.com). Click to enlarge.
Eugene Schwartz, a Waldorf Educational Consultant with his own US site Millennial Child, gave a series of lectures called ‘The Karma of Education’ at Rudolf Steiner House, London in April this year at the invitation of St. Michael Steiner School in Wandsworth. The podcast is available to download and is essential listening for Michael Gove. Schwartz is candid and even entertaining; if anyone could make Steiner’s Saturn/Sun/Moon evolution, Lemuria and Atlantis palatable it might be him. But this is adult fantasy, theosophical science-fiction; it is not a basis for the education of children, however well-meaning or well connected some of its proponents may be.
As Anthroposophy is an esoteric movement with an ‘inner circle’, it is not surprising that the undeclared hierarchy of Steiner schools includes practicing anthroposophists as well as some teachers making attempts to work assiduously for the benefit of their classes, trying even to ignore Anthroposophy. The turnover of the latter type of teacher is high. For those who imagine they will ‘take the good bits & ignore the rest’ of Steiner in any possible UK Free Schools, there are indications in this document from the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, directed at the many ‘Waldorf inspired’ initiatives budding in the States, that without Anthroposophy there is no Steiner Waldorf. Readers are instructed that essential to the "art" of teaching is: "an openness to reckon with the unseen spiritual realities which live behind the physical world and developing the perceptivity to experience what this reality is."
In addition, those concerned can buy a copy of the most recent (2007) edition of The Class Teachers’ Handbook’ by Kevin Avison, available from the bookshop of the UK Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship:
"…without active recall the teacher cannot claim to be including the spiritual world, the activity of the night, in the lesson. Recall time is the moment in the lesson when what is beginning to individualise itself in the child through their unconscious communication with the hierarchies (especially the Angels, Archangels and Archai – see for example, The Hierarchies as the Source of Action Speech and Thought, April 28, 1023 – GA224) during sleep can express itself."
In the same Handbook, Avison advises teachers: "anything indicating what the class might have learnt or covered in Morning Lesson should be ‘lost’ before you leave the school," Many have taken him seriously, since the ‘loss’ of notes is a complaint made repeatedly by Waldorf parents all over the world.
The implications of spiritual science
So why are parents asking for these schools? Steiner Waldorf schools offer an apparently creative, ‘unhurried’, authentic childhood experience free from our dominant exam culture and from technology. They stress the ecological and holistic. They are alluring. The distinct aesthetic within the Steiner kindergarten: natural materials, wool, washed peach-coloured walls and gentle voices creates for some parents a lost garden of childhood, in contrast to which the brash plastic of the average nursery becomes an affront to the senses. There’s no reason to suspect anything odd, so Michael Gove can hardly be blamed for his positive reaction to the Bruton Steiner School, which appears to have been his moment of zen.
But the Steiner dream ends for many families with the realisation that their child is academically far behind his or her peers. Susan Godsland, an independent reading intervention expert, has helped many ex-Steiner children learn to read at 8, 9 and 10. Though she acknowledges that some children can blossom in Steiner school, that a percentage will learn to read earlier in spite of the pedagogy, she believes it’s cruel to deny a child the chance to read until so late. In the last paragraphs of her Room 101 she explains why early reading isn’t encouraged. A child is ‘blessed’ with not being able to read and write, since Steiner says early reading will hinder the later spiritual development of children. She adds: ‘this is simply mumbo-jumbo and should be treated with the contempt it deserves.’
While it is evident that this failure in basic teaching could cause low self esteem, the influence of anthroposophical medicine within Waldorf schools is an added concern (for example, mistletoe as a ‘treatment’ for cancer). In addition the measles epidemics linked to European Waldorf schools are an indication of an anti-vaccination culture. In the US Microbe Magazine, Bernard Dixon states:
"Steiner believed that febrile illnesses such as measles and scarlet fever were related to a child’s spiritual development. Adherents assert that the use of vaccines (especially measles vaccine) deprives infants of the opportunity to benefit from the experience of having those diseases."
In Norway, homeopath Gro Lystad enlists Steiner’s concept of a ‘transforming illness’.
"I am quite sure that it is positive for a child who is healthy. It is conceivable that some will die, but this applies to children who are impaired in advance,"
In our opinion, the disclaimer issued by the European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education regarding vaccination is not entirely candid, since it states only that opposition to vaccination is not a part of their “specific educational objectives”, omitting Steiner’s belief that if children are vaccinated they will need a ‘spiritual education’. And it makes no mention of Karma.
The rejection of evidence in favour of a ‘spiritual paradigm’ by adherents of Anthroposophy is not surprising given that it is a belief system which is essentially anti-scientific. Peter Staudenmaier, a historian who has written extensively about Anthroposophy, explains that: ‘like other esotericists, anthroposophists regularly view themselves as privy to special knowledge which distinguishes them from the unenlightened — and an aggravated resentment against ‘intellectualism’ and critical thought and the ostensibly materialist cast of modern science and scholarship.’
These beliefs mean that the emotional and physical health of children is potentially being put at risk. We cannot agree that the satisfaction of lobbying groups or parent choice is enough to justify the public funding of Steiner Waldorf schools.